DRAGONS lock Jack de Belin's rugby league career hangs in the balance after his federal court action against the NRL ended in defeat on Friday.
In a case that had huge implications for the NRL and its handling of off-field incidents, in particular those involving criminal charges, Justice Melissa Perry ruled in the NRL's favour.De Belin, who personally paid to head to court, was ordered to cover costs.
The 28-year-old became the first player sidelined as a result of the controversial rules when they were rubber-stamped in March.
Under the rules, the game can stand down any player charged with a serious crime which carries a jail term of 11 years or more.
De Belin, the incumbent NSW Origin lock, was stood down after he was charged with the aggravated sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in a Wollongong unit.
He has pleaded not guilty.
In suing the NRL, De Belin argued the no-fault stand down rules were unconscionable, represent a restraint of trade, constitute unlawful interference with his contract and that the governing body were misleading in their conduct.
Justice Perry's decision could have dire consequences for de Belin.
De Belin was set to be rushed into the Dragons line-up for Sunday's clash with Newcastle if successful but now faces up to two years on the sidelines until the conclusion of his criminal case, a stint out of the game that could spell the end of his career.
He is off contract at the end of next year, and his next deal could be the most important of his career.
Over a four-day court hearing last month, the Federal Court was told that the game's broadcasters Fox Sports and Channel Nine had warned the NRL their next TV rights deal would plummet in value if players like de Belin were allowed to continue playing while they had serious criminal charges hanging over their heads.
Melbourne Storm chairman Bart Campbell said the game's "summer from hell" had cost the club $500,000 in lost sponsorship after potential backers had pulled out of deals stating they couldn't be involved in rugby league given it's stream of ugly headlines over the summer.
De Belin, who may yet appeal the verdict, will remain stood down on full pay while his sexual assault case plays out, with his next court date coming on May 29 in Wollongong.