Mal Meninga: Why NRL grubs should be stood down
EXCLUSIVE: If Kangaroos coach and recently inducted Immortal Mal Meninga was picking an Australian rugby league team this weekend, accused rapist Jack de Belin would not even be considered.
Not a chance.
Big Mal has had enough. He told The Daily Telegraph de Belin should be suspended immediately from the game because of the serious nature of the charges against the Blues State of Origin star and St George Illawarra forward, which have rocked the game in its off-season of shame.
De Belin has pleaded not guilty to raping a woman in company at a unit in Wollongong last month.
Last year, Meninga sacked superstar Greg Inglis from the Kangaroos over drink-driving and speeding charges, and did the same to Maroons Origin forward Josh Papalii the year before for a drink-driving charge.
He did not wait around for their court cases to be finalised.
"Anything around domestic violence or sexual abuse, is a no-no in society," Meninga said. "The game has to say no too. Everyone is sick of it. Their time's up.
"If you bugger up and get charged, you've got to be suspended until your case is determined. You can't be around the game or the team. It's got to be definitive.
"Yes, there has to be a presumption of innocence until found guilty but players have got to understand they are custodians of the game.
"Anyone who goes outside the parameters and values deserves to be extinguished from our game."
Meninga carries huge influence in the game, and his comments are sure to be taken into consideration when the NRL's independent commission meets to consider legal advice before deciding on de Belin's future.
"He should be suspended," Meninga said. "He's been charged. A process has taken place. He's been interviewed and police have charged him with a very serious offence.
"He should be automatically suspended on full pay until the matter is resolved."
De Belin was close to making Meninga's Australian team last season after the Blues' Origin triumph.
"If we were picking an Australian team tomorrow he wouldn't even be in the picture. Not after what's alleged to have happened."
The Kangaroos coach said the game needs to do more to educate players, and to keep pace with the rest of society.
"We have to be a value-driven organisation and players have to be educated more on the expectation of those values. The game needs to do better in telling people what it stands for."
However, he says that there is still a place in the game for redemption.
Like having Inglis back this winter for his final year of representative football.
"We all stuff up. Footy players will always have their misdemeanours," Meninga said.
"Greg was fully aware and understood his responsibilities as an ambassador of the game.
"He understood straight away that he couldn't play - and here was a man about to captain his country.
"But he disrespected the game and the Australian colours and missed out. It became a positive in that he took ownership of his error and he'll be back this year.
"In any values system, there has to be an element for redemption.
"Sometimes it takes a bit longer for players to absorb that and take it on board.
"If you can turn your life around and display the behaviour that's complementary to being an ambassador and custodian of our game, you can represent your country again."
POLITIS JOINS THE CALLS TO SUSPEND
By Matthew Benns
EXCLUSIVE: Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie is calling every NRL club chairman and asking them one simple question - do they agree with standing down a player facing criminal charges.
Roosters' heavyweight Nick Politis yesterday added his name to the majority of club chairmen backing the push to dump players facing criminal charges until they have been decided in court.
Titans chairman Dennis Watt said: "This is a watershed moment. There is a perception in the community that the NRL tolerates the abuse of women."
Pressure is building on Mr Beattie and the ARL Commission to act. The reputation of the game is being trashed, with Jack de Belin eligible to play and train with the Dragons despite a rape charge hanging over him. He has pleaded not guilty.
Under current NRL policy, players who plead not guilty to criminal charges cannot be stood down until the case is resolved in court.
The commission meets next Thursday to review that policy, and Mr Beattie is contacting every club chairman before the meeting.
"We cannot leave the policy as it is, we have to change," Mr Beattie said. "The current policy is damaging the game."
Mr Politis, one of the NRL's most influential chairmen, said: "On the more serious charges, players should be stood down."
The Telegraph understands nine chairmen have thrown their weight behind the push, favouring a policy similar to the NFL's, where a player is stood down on full pay until the case is decided.
"The problem is you are penalising the club and the fans more than the player," Mr Politis said.
"The player could be on $800,000 and still gets paid. Is that fair on the clubs?"
One solution would be for any suspended player to have his salary removed from the cap until his case is resolved.
Melbourne Storm chairman Bart Campbell said: "I support the ARLC changing its policy so that anyone charged with a serious crime is stood down from the game pending a result."
Titans chairman Dennis Watt said: "We are hearing it loud and clear from the women in the community and women in our lives that things need to change."
Wests Tigers chair Marina Go also supported a change.
"The reputational damage to the game increases every day that we appear not to move this forward," she said.