The notable absentee from Monday night’s dinner was ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie, who was also the notable absentee when Greenberg met with de Belin and his manager, Steve Gillis, at St George Leagues Club on Wednesday.
But fear not! Big Pete will be front and centre when a media conference is held just after midday on Thursday following the commission’s annual general meeting at League Central.
Beattie will announce the game’s worst kept secret: that players who have been charged with serious offences will be stood down indefinitely, revoking the former «policy» of letting the legal process first run its course.
Instead of clarifying the situation, it will merely muddy the waters.
What is deemed “serious” and what is not? How does it affect de Belin and how does it affect Manly’s Dylan Walker, who’s still contesting domestic violence allegations before the court?
Greenberg’s hastily arranged meeting with de Belin was an 11th-hour attempt to take the heat out of a very messy situation: to ask de Belin to stand himself down before the commission does.
In other words, to make de Belin make the hard call about himself that Greenberg, Beattie and whoever else supposedly runs this game hasn’t had the strength to make since early December when de Belin was charged with rape.
As revealed by the Herald last week, there are provisions in the NRL Code of Conduct that give Greenberg and Weeks the discretion to stand down players. Instead of exercising it, they have waited three months for the commission to give them the green light to make the decision it always had the authority to do.
De Belin responded to Greenberg as you would expect of someone who hasn’t just pleaded not guilty but also had his name dragged through the mud by the chairman: he told the NRL to go jam it.
It was the first time since the charges were laid that anyone from the NRL had been in contact with the NSW forward and that in itself exposes how dysfunctional the league can be when it comes to making important decisions and making them swiftly.
The best result for the NRL, the Dragons and, more than anyone, de Belin, was to convince the player that he should stand down.
A strong leader, whether it was Greenberg or Beattie, would’ve sat him down within days and explained to him the benefits of not playing while he faced these serious allegations.
Instead, the league did what it did best: it dithered. It let the situation run wild before reacting and flinching to social media.
For the past two weeks, Beattie has been telling anyone who will listen, from the various media commentators he has on speed dial to anonymous Twitter followers, that de Belin will be stood down.
Some call that strong leadership. Others see it for what it is: grandstanding.
Beattie is unashamed in his belief that Twitter is representative of what rugby league fans think. It does not. It represents what some people think. Mostly, social media is a sewer of anonymous opinion. The rusted-on rugby league fan is not on it.
Ever the politician, Beattie’s fanned the flames around the de Belin issue knowing that he “has the numbers” on the commission heading into the annual general meeting.
As this column understands, several commissioners have been far from comfortable with the way he’s conducted himself in recent weeks. They will make those feelings known when they meet on Thursday morning.
Some of them appreciate the situation is a delicate one that can’t be condensed into a sound byte. They have weighed up the presumption of innocence with the damage to the game’s reputation. They acknowledge the difference between standing someone down in the corporate world and a footballer with a finite time in his chosen field.
Beattie will ask for the new policy to be endorsed unanimously by the commission and it is expected to do so.
And it is the right decision. It hurts too many people, too many parts of the rugby league business, to have players facing such serious charges playing throughout the year.
But the most delicate of situations could’ve been handled with greater professionalism, and much sooner than two weeks from the start of the season. De Belin and Walker aren’t the first two players charged with serious offences. This storm has been brewing for a long time.
There is a belief that Beattie will make a quick exit in coming weeks after making this momentous call for the game. Get out while the going’s good and all that.
Let’s hope the mail is right. He has devalued the role of the chairman and the sooner it installs a genuine statesman, like former ARL general manager John Quayle, the sooner the fans will have faith in those running the game.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.