Jack de Belin’s sexual assault case threatens to loom large over this year’s State of Origin series with the NRL star’s trial set to begin just two days before Game I.
Two years after being a key part of the NSW team that reclaimed the Origin shield, de Belin will fight allegations he attacked a teenage girl.
Pre-trial matters for de Belin and his co-accused Callan Sinclair wrapped up on Friday, with the trial ordered to proceed from November 2 in Wollongong.
The pair have both pleaded not guilty to the aggravated sexual assault of a 19-year-old inside a Wollongong apartment in December 2018.
The trial could last two weeks, meaning it could linger over more than half of the truncated Origin series with games on November 11 and 18.
Aside from the possible distraction for his St George Illawarra teammates playing in Origin, it also threatens to steal some of the spotlight for the NRL during its showpiece event.
De Belin hasn’t played in the NRL since he was the highest-profile player stood down under the NRL’s no-fault policy in 2019.
At the time, the league introduced the rule fearing sponsors would desert the game after poor publicity after a summer from hell off the field.
The timing of the trial before the end of this year does, however, allow the Dragons lock to start planning a playing return if he is found not guilty.
He is off contract from November 1, and the Saints would be keen to keep the 29-year-old if he is able to play in the NRL next year.
The Warriors have already signalled their interest under new coach Nathan Brown, with some speculation de Belin could earn more than his current $595,000-a-year deal.
When he was charged de Belin was one of the best locks in the NRL, with his absence a key part of the Dragons’ demise in the past two seasons.