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NRL gender advisor Professor Catharine Lumby believes high-profile rugby league players charged with serious crimes should consider standing down, but has backed the governing body's decision not to preempt the justice system.
The game has been rocked by a spate of off-field incidents, which will be the main topic of discussion at a meeting of all 16 club chief executives at Rugby League Central on Friday.
Jarryd Hayne's sexual assault case was mentioned at Newcastle Local Court on Wednesday, just a day after details emerged of the rape allegations levelled against St George Illawarra forward Jack De Belin. It is alleged De Belin told his co-accused to "come on, have a go" as the alleged victim lay on the bed crying.
After pleading not guilty, De Belin will be allowed to continue his playing career until the case is heard. The NRL's policy is to allow players the presumption of innocence and not intervene once a matter is before the courts.
It also raises the prospect of De Belin, an incumbent NSW star, being considered for this year's State of Origin series while the court process is in train. Blues coach Brad Fittler wouldn't be drawn on de Belin's prospects.
"A lot has got to happen between here and then," Fittler said. © Adam McLeanSerious accusations: Jack de Belin is charged with aggravated sexual assault in company.
"He's going through a process at the moment. There's a process he's going through and we are also going through the process of picking the team. We're 111 days off from picking the first team, there's plenty that will happen between now and then."
Lumby supported the NRL's protocols and said the onus should be on the player to consider whether their position is tenable while the court process unfolds.
"My position is well known that I believe when someone is even charged with a serious crime, they should not be on the field," Lumby said.
"In the same way as a professor in a university; if I was charged with a serious crime, I would stand myself aside pending the hearing in the court. I think that's a reasonable expectation.
"When it comes to the NRL it is complex because if you stand people aside while the trial is under way, you could be jeopardising the fairness of the trial because it could be seen as some kind of evidence that the crime had actually been committed.
"In other words, there is a question of natural justice here we cannot avoid.
"It's not as simple as there is a trial under way, these people are just stood aside. Were they stood aside, there are legal implications both in the court system and at NRL level.
"Anyone in a high-profile role should stand themselves down in that situation. That's my ethical view."
Rugby League Players' Association chief executive Ian Prendergast had the right to a presumption of innocence.
"Players need to be afforded the fundamental right of being innocent unless proven guilty," Prendergast said.
"The rights of the individuals involved need to be protected until the matters are properly tested and determined through any criminal proceedings.
"We encourage everyone to be mindful of these important principles when commenting on any ongoing court proceedings to ensure the parties receive a fair hearing."
NRL boss Todd Greenberg has described the pre-season as a "train wreck" after a spate of incidents, with alleged violence against women a common denominator. All stakeholders are concerned about the damage the transgressions cause the game, with the issue at the top of the agenda for Friday's meeting of NRL chief executives.
Some pundits have expressed frustration that the NRL is allowing players to continue their careers while standing trial on serious charges. However, Lumby said natural justice must always apply.
"The perception is that the NRL isn't taking any action here," Lumby explained.
"The NRL is in a legal bind when it comes to a matter before the courts. If the NRL is preemptive, they risk denying natural justice to the men who are accused.
"It could interfere with the justice system and result in a mistrial. It's a different scenario if there is clear evidence in the form of a video or other material that would allow the integrity unit to investigate prior to a court case.
"I have complete confidence in the integrity unit that they now have consistency, they are forensic in their investigations and where there is evidence they can pursue they will.
"But once it is before the court they will not conduct a parallel process because they could be in contempt of court and cause a mistrial."
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