While Australian rugby’s highest profile player takes a dismissive view of his paymasters, who have stood him down, de Belin stays out on the field after training, doing “extras”, and receiving a salary half the money paid Folau.
Folau’s teammates have publicly expressed disappointment at his words condemning gays, while Wallaby coach Michael Cheika has put his view: it is not so much about religion, or gay rights, or free speech. It is the individual placing himself above the team.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor has been strongly supportive of his player, even protective. He pointed out that the two years’ banishment while de Belin waits for his criminal trial means his next contract will be significantly less.
As soon as Folau posted his condemnation, less than 12 months after Rugby Australia warned him such views would not be tolerated, he knew it would be a major destabiliser to the team ethos.
De Belin certainly sent fractures through a club that, more than any NRL organisation, prides itself on its reputation. But it is not as if he planned the fallout. Even if the court system eventually clears him of aggravated sexual assault, he can still be called dumb, even callous, but not calculating.
Waratah sources claim Folau had been encouraging teammates to join his church, always a major cause of distraction at a football club. The Dragons say de Belin has not allowed his inner mood to sidetrack his teammates, reporting to the training facility with a positive face.
While the Waratahs, with their best player not in attendance, attracted only a 10,000 crowd at rugby’s debut game at western Sydney’s new Bankwest stadium, de Belin is banned from entering an arena when an NRL game is played.
When he asked permission to attend Dragons lower-tier matches, such as Canterbury Cup and Jersey Flegg matches, the NRL said the ban extended to those games as well.
NRL players visit their junior clubs this week. De Belin cannot participate.
Folau, who has club and code hopped from the Storm to the Broncos to GWS Giants and to the Waratahs, each time for more money, took time to respond to Rugby Australia’s breach notice.
De Belin has fronted court on each day of his Federal Court hearing to have the ARLC ban overturned.
This week, Folau and de Belin find themselves before similar courts but inhabiting different worlds.
De Belin has demonstrated he is a team man in rugby league’s limited universe, while Folau has become a universe unto himself.
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.