Battered Dragons expected to play de Belin

St George Illawarra admit they expected to play Jack de Belin in their NRL match against Newcastle.
St George Illawarra admit they expected to play Jack de Belin in their NRL match against Newcastle.

Coach Paul McGregor admits he expected to rush Jack de Belin back into NRL action and his St George Illawarra team may have been distracted by the suspended star's failed Federal Court challenge.

The Dragons put in their worst performance of the season in Sunday's 45-12 loss to Newcastle just two days after de Belin's bid to overturn the NRL's no-fault stand-down policy ruling against him was denied.

The NSW State of Origin lock continues to train with the Dragons as part of the terms of his stand down, and remains on full pay at the club, but has missed every game this season.

"I hope that (the ruling) didn't have an affect on the performance today," he said.

"Some say it may have because Jack is a very well-liked person and an important part of our football team

"To be totally honest we all expected him to be available today, but he wasn't so we had to move on pretty quickly from that.

"There's feeling there, there's definitely emotion there for sure.

"Whether that played a role in today's performance, or even in my build up, I'm not sure subconsciously. Certainly he is a big part of our lives."

McGregor said de Belin was "extremely disappointed" following Friday's ruling, which means only a players' union challenge could see him back in the game before his sexual assault case is finalised.

De Belin, 28, has maintained his innocence since he was charged with sexual assault last December, and it's anticipated any trial may not take place until next year.

When asked if de Belin would continue training with the team, McGregor said he had no plans to remove him from the group.

"I haven't really even thought of that but no, he's a part of our club and a part of our team," McGregor said.

"He's got the assumption of innocence until he gets his opportunity in court, which he's not getting at the moment anywhere else."

The NRL says it's new "no-fault" behaviour policy does not presume guilt, a stance they maintained throughout the Federal Court hearing.

McGregor said recruitment manager Ian Millward was considering possible replacements for de Belin as the club prepares to apply for salary cap dispensation.

"He's been working hard at it for quite some time and different alternatives," McGregor said.

Australian Associated Press