Last week it was announced that Jack de Belin would be withdrawing his appeal against the NRL challenging the no-fault stand down policy introduced earlier this year after the off-season from hell.
According to the policy, if a player is charged with a criminal offence that carries a maximum jail sentence of 11 years or more, the player will be stood down until the matter is heard and a determination is made by the court.
Given that De Belin’s trial – where he stands accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in Wollongong last December – will not take place until next March, his lawyers argued that there was little utility in pursuing the case given the proximity of his other hearing to the start of the NRL season.
The Rugby League Players’ Association continued to challenge this policy, but De Belin withdrawing his appeal is a major win for the NRL.
It was also recently announced that Peter Beattie will not seek a second term as commissioner of the Australian Rugby League Commission, so this policy will be one of his lasting legacies to the game.
But the work isn’t done yet.
On the weekend, the Daily Telegraph shared a draft version of the NRL’s punishment matrix, which they are looking to enact before the start of next season.
This matrix presents a roadmap of offences where the punishment for various acts is set out, giving the players transparency.
I have been firmly in support of the NRL’s no-stand down policy and I am in favour of the transparency that this punishment matrix gives players.
In the past, when it comes to player misbehaviour, NRL fans, commentators and the media have had a case of whataboutism whereby player indiscretions are compared against each other and questions are asked about why certain players have received certain punishments and other players have not.
A good example is Todd Carney. Given some of the offences that players currently in the game have been charged with, many question whether Carney should have been deregistered all those years ago, given his greatest crime was making a fool of himself in public.
This matrix will hopefully put an end to that, draw a line in the sand and give some much needed consistency in this space.
Clubs have an inherent interest in their best players being able to take the field and spending as little time on the sidelines as possible, and this matrix will take the power away from the clubs and see that indiscretions are all dealt with by the NRL integrity unit.
However, given that the matrix that was published in the media was still in draft form, some changes can still be made.
Under the draft, if a player is found guilty of sexual assault, armed robbery or large commercial drug supply, these players will automatically have their registration cancelled. This will mean that player will not be able to play rugby league again.
But then a series of offences are grouped together and are considered either low or high scale and they carry various fines and match bans.
For a high scale sanction, the maximum penalty can be a player being deregistered or a 12-match ban and an accompanying fine of 25 per cent of their salary.
The stand out for me, though, was that domestic violence or common assault charges will see a player automatically banned for at least five games and a minimum fine of three per cent of their salary. If the offence is deemed high scale, then it is a minimum ban of seven games and a fine of ten per cent of the player’s salary.
That minimum ban punishes a player charged with domestic violence in exactly the same way as a player who has shared lewd content.
That is not proportionate and players charged with domestic violence should spend far more time on the sideline, particularly given the work that the NRL does with players in this space, including training from organisations such as the Full Stop Foundation and through NRL partnerships with organisations like OurWatch.
There is a big difference between domestic violence and a player making a stupid and inappropriate decision to share inappropriate or lewd content.
It’s also important to note that players can still be punished even if charges aren’t laid.
I expect we will hear more about this in coming weeks, given that it is out for consultation amongst the clubs, but I continue to support the NRL as it strives to encourage positive behaviour by its players.
I hope other codes follow suit as well.