The NRL has cleared Dylan Walker to resume playing and defended its no-fault stand down policy in the face of criticism after the Manly centre was acquitted in court.
Walker is free to play for the first time this season when Manly meet Cronulla on Sunday, having missed the first nine rounds while his domestic violence charges were dealt with by the courts.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg on Monday cleared Walker to return after a NRL integrity unit review of the court documents surrounding his acquittal last week.
The policy will face further scrutiny later this week when the Federal Court delivers its ruling on St George Illawarra lock Jack De Belin’s bid to have his playing status restored.
De Belin has been charged with the aggravated sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman, but has pleaded not guilty to the charge and his lawyers have argued the NRL’s policy represents a restraint of trade.
Greenberg said the NRL would welcome the findings in the De Belin case and believes the Walker outcome demonstrated how the new no-fault stand down rule protects the reputation of the game.
“If anything, it vindicates the policy and shows why the policy is so important,” he said.
“There’s no fault or presumption of innocence, but it is a very serious charge and while a player’s going through that charge, we feel we need to protect the brand and reputation of the game.
“On its first test, the no-fault stand down policy worked exactly as we would’ve expected it.”
Greenberg reiterated the rule would only be used where players are charged with serious offences.
“Some people might not think it’s the perfect solution, but we do have a duty to protect the interests of the sport,” he said.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie also claimed the Walker case showed the no-fault stand down rule was fair.
“Clearly the Dylan Walker case demonstrates that this policy did not prejudice players before the court,” he said.
He believed the policy would, over time, lead to improved player behaviour.
“This is about protecting the whole game and all players. If the game loses value players will be paid less,” Beattie said.
“That is how it works. It is that simple.
“I am not backing down on this policy and nor is the ARLC.”
Greenberg said any suggestion that Beattie’s tenure as chairman should ride on the success of the no-fault stand-down policy was unfair.
“If a coach loses three games in a row they want to sack him,” he said.
“Win three and he’s going to be the Dally M coach of the year … there is a propensity (in rugby league) for when decisions are made to find a scalp.
“I don’t see it like that; this was a decision endorsed by the entire commission, a decision endorsed for all the right reasons.”