NRL says scandal plagued off-season will cost it $10 million
A TRAIN-wreck off-season will cost the NRL more than $10 million over three years in lost sponsorship, the federal court has heard.
Closing submissions have been released from Dragons star Jack de Belin's legal bid to overturn his playing ban while defending rape charges.
He argues the "draconian" no-fault stand-down rule will ruin his career.
The NRL says its perceived failure to crack down on player misconduct has already contributed to the loss of four sponsorship deals totalling $2.6 million per year, as well as a grassroots sponsorship of $7.5 million over three years.
And although admitting the NRL has restrained de Belin's trade "to a certain degree", the governing body notes the 28-year-old has retained his full $545,000 salary.
And there was no proof the Blues lock had suffered any financial hit from being sidelined under the new policy, barrister Alan Sullivan QC said.
"It is fanciful to think that there would be any such relationship," he said.
"Mr de Belin will be precluded from obtaining sponsorship because he has been charged with the violent rape of a women in company with another man."
De Belin's charges were the tipping point in a scandal-plagued summer and if action wasn't taken fans and sponsors would abandon the code, which would be commercially "disastrous for rugby league in this country", Mr Sullivan said.
The league's major sponsor, Telstra, called for automatic suspensions for any player facing criminal charges, court documents show.
Senior executives from broadcast partners News Limited and Nine Entertainment also flagged concern with NRL boss Todd Greenberg that de Belin's charges would smash ratings, with broadcast rights accounting for two-thirds of the league's total revenue, Mr Sullivan said.
And principal NSW Origin sponsor NIB chief Mark Fitzgibbon emailed Mr Greenberg on February 20 and "stated in clear terms" that athletes charged with an offence carrying a maximum prison term of 11 years or more should be sidelined until their case was completed.
"As a consequence of the allegations, key partnership agreement extension discussions have been put on hold, there have been increased requests for the inclusion of termination rights for player behaviour incidents in contractual documents, and there has been a withdrawal of potential new partners from advanced discussions, with player behaviour concerns being cited as the reason," Mr Sullivan said.
Several clubs outlined the reputational damage being done to the game, including Gold Coast Titans chair Dennis Watt and Melbourne Storm chairman Bart Campbell, who stressed the NRL was on a "moral and financial precipice".
"At the moment, we look like and (sic) enablers of violence/sexual or otherwise against women and it stinks," Mr Campbell wrote in messages to the chairs of other clubs.
Ultimately 15 out of 16 clubs supported the hard-line stance, which was publicly applauded by Telstra and anti-violence against women organisations Our Watch and White Ribbon Australia, court documents show.
De Belin claims the controversially retrospective provision unjustifiably infringes on his liberty to work.
But the NRL says the forward's charges fundamentally undermine the code's economic survival, the careers of 500 other players and that of the next wave of aspiring sports stars.
"He is but a single plaintiff challenging a rule designed for the benefit of the game as a whole and therefore the benefit of thousands of other players, present and future," Mr Sullivan said.
Justice Melissa Perry has reserved her judgment in the landmark case.