Jack de Belin made his long-awaited return to rugby league on Saturday afternoon, featuring in the Dragons’ 26-18 loss to the Magpies in the NSW Cup at Lidcombe Oval.
Earlier this week, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided de Belin would not face a third sexual assault trial following two hung juries.
And the former State of Origin player was quickly named to start on the bench for Saturday’s reserve grade clash — his first game in 968 days.
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De Belin played for 45 minutes in the No. 19 jersey with his right elbow heavily strapped, supported in the crowd by friends and Dragons teammates Ben Hunt, Tariq Sims, Andrew McCullough and Zac Lomax.
Co-accused Callan Sinclair was also in attendance.
Additional security was called for the match, with NSWRL chief executive David Trodden telling the Sydney Morning Herald that any offensive signs will be “taken down”.
A sign reading “De Belin, De Beast” was spotted at the suburban venue.
AAP reporter Scott Bailey tweeted: “De Belin solid in his first game back. 45 minutes, touched the ball three times in his first set on the field. Looked gassed after that but got a second wind and was still poking his nose through.”
De Belin was seen taking photos with children and fans after the eight-point loss.
Jack de Belin playing his first game in nearly three years.Source:Getty Images
The 30-year-old is subsequently available for first-grade selection, and could feature in Thursday evening’s NRL clash against the Brisbane Broncos.
However, Dragons coach Anthony Griffin conceded it would be a “big risk” naming de Belin for the Round 13 match in Sydney.
“I’d rather see how he gets through this,” Griffin said on Saturday.
“It would be a big ask to play next Thursday. He’ll be terribly sore after today.
“We’ll see what happens over the next couple of days. He wants to play as quickly as possible, and we want him on our list as quickly as possible, but we won’t do anything stupid that will put him in jeopardy of hurting himself after being out this long.
“He was gassed after four or five minutes. But he’s been really effective. He’s been everywhere he needs to be and neat with his defence.”
The Dragons are currently eighth on the NRL ladder having lost six of their last seven games.
De Belin has trained with the Dragons squad throughout his legal proceedings — a new contract keeps him at the club runs until the end of 2023.
Additional security was called for the match.Source:Getty Images
Jack de Belin with Zac Lomax and Matt Dufty.Source:Getty Images
Jack de Belin poses for a photo with a young fan.Source:Getty Images
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo defended the league’s no-fault stand-down policy, which kept de Belin out of the sport for three years.
“We make no apology for taking the hardest stance in Australian sport where our players are charged with serious criminal offences. We cannot remain indifferent to such charges, particularly those against women,’’ Abdo said in a statement on Thursday.
“The ‘No-Fault Stand Down’ rule upholds the values of the game, protects the game’s commercial relationships and provides safeguards for the very small number of players who find themselves the subject of serious criminal charges.
“This is an example of our processes working. Jack continued to be employed by the club and was able to extend his contract with the Dragons during the process.
“The rule worked as it should.”
Jack de Belin poses for photos with his fiancée and daughter, after making his return to the reserves after rape charges were dropped. @9NewsSydpic.twitter.com/Wid8XBJLAK
Dragons captain Hunt described de Belin’s return as “pretty special”.
“It’s been a long-time without footy,” Hunt said. “There were a couple of periods where he was blowing a bit hard. That’s going to happen.
“That’s to be expected when you don’t play for so long. You come into it when everyone has been playing 10 or 11 games you’re going to be a little bit off the pace.
“When the boys finally got the news there was a lot of excitement around the place. The boys were pretty pumped. Straight away we were trying to find out if he was playing this weekend.
“It’s good to see a lot of the boys get around him.
“It’s good to see not just the players here and their partners as well. Jack’s young family is here supporting him. His friends and family who have stuck behind him the whole time.
“It’s a bit of a reward for all the hand work and patience that has gone into it. It’s exciting to see him back playing again.”
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