NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has revealed a conversation with his daughter's friends who told him they were being turned off rugby league helped convince him to push through the game's controversial "no fault" stand-down rules.
Greenberg spent nearly three hours in the witness box in the Federal Court on Wednesday defending the game's hardline policy as part of St George Illawarra star Jack de Belin's fight against the ARL Commission and the NRL.
De Belin's lawyers questioned rugby league headquarters' reasoning for introducing the rules and whether there were other factors which could contribute to dwindling crowds, attendances and sponsorship.
De Belin's barrister Martin Einfeld questioned Greenberg's justification that poor player behaviour would drive away female participants.
He revealed that friends of his daughter, who plays casual touch football, had told him they had quit the game because of the tidal wave of negative stories about the misbehaviour during the so-called "summer from hell".
"I'm the father of a daughter who plays regular touch football and a number of her friends have shared that the conduct of players is the reason they will no longer play casually," Greenberg said.
The stand down rules, which were rubber-stamped in March, allow the game to sideline any player charged with a serious crime which carries a jail term of 11 years or more.
De Belin has been charged with aggravated sexual assault, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
His case, and that of co-accused Callan Sinclair, were mentioned in Wollongong Local Court on Wednesday and were adjourned to May 29.
The case before Justice Melissa Perry will conclude on Thursday with Melbourne Storm chairman Bart Campbell to step into the witness box.
Justice Perry could hand down her judgement as early as Tuesday next week, meaning that if successful, De Belin could be free to play in the Dragons' ANZAC Day clash with the Sydney Roosters.
De Belin's legal team attempted to argue there were many reasons why fans and participants had walked away from the game including dissatisfaction with referees, the risk of concussion and alcohol and gambling advertising.
Tensions rose when Greenberg suggested in his cross examination that concerns about concussion would not dissuade a mother from allowing her child to play rugby league.
Einfeld fired back: "Are you serious?"
Einfeld suggested that the game's encouragement of wagering was leading to dissatisfaction among some fans.
When Greenberg replied: "We've worked very hard over the last 24 months to ensure they are marketed correctly towards those who can use them."
To which Einfeld said: "That's complete and utter balderdash."
Greenberg said while some expressed dissatisfaction with referees, officials did not turn fans off the game like the issue of player behaviour.
"I've had fans tell me they'll never watch again because of the referees, only to turn up the next weekend and they're sitting in their seat," Greenberg said.
Australian Associated Press