Sydney, Australia: Australian rugby league authorities announced tough and controversial new rules to crack down on players accused of serious crimes Thursday after a spate of off-field incidents tarnished the game's reputation.
Under the regime, players who are charged with serious criminal offences will now be automatically suspended. Previously, they could continue playing while they awaited the outcome of their court cases.
St George Illawarra's Jack de Belin, who is facing sexual assault allegations, was on Thursday the first to be banned, although he will still be able to train with the team.
He has pleaded not guilty and concerns have been raised that suspending players could impact their presumption of innocence.
"If we were to shift the policy and stand a player down, we're in dangerous territory," said Rugby League Players Association chief executive Ian Prendergast ahead of the decision.
"We're making that decision with the same set of facts that are before the courts and we've been concerned about the public debate given the very real potential to prejudice the party's right to a fair hearing."
But Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter Beattie said there must be benchmark set for the sake of the sport.
"We've spent a considerable amount of time working on what's in the best interests of rugby league," Beattie said in a statement.
"I want to make it clear this is no fault, we're making no judgement whatsoever, in relation to any player charged with any offence.
"What we're doing is setting a benchmark and standard for the game of rugby league," he said.
"We do have a responsibility of player welfare and we want to have a clear partnership with all clubs. They'll be able to train with the team," he added.
Beattie said serious offences would be deemed anything with a maximum penalty of 11 years in prison or above.
The fate of players charged with an offence carrying a jail term of less than 11 years, including violence against women or children, would be at the discretion of National Rugby League chief executive Todd Greenberg.
The decision to change the rules comes after a series of recent incidents.
Earlier this month, high-profile Ben Barba, who has had stints in France and England, was kicked out of the sport in Australia over allegations of domestic violence.
Last year, Jarryd Hayne, along with de Belin, were charged with sexual assault, while Manly's Dylan Walker has pleaded not guilty to domestic violence.