Rugby league star Jack de Belin has insisted he is innocent in his first public statement since being charged with pinning down and raping a 19-year-old girl.
The Dragons forward, who is on a $600,000-a-year salary, was on Thursday banned by the NRL from playing while court proceedings against him continue.
After the NRL announced the ban, de Belin issued a statement via his club, St George Illawarra.
'Rugby league has always been a big part of my life, I love the game,' de Belin said.
'I am innocent and will vigorously defend the charge against me.'Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Jack de Belin has been stood down from the NRL after he was charged with raping a teenage girl on December 8
De Belin, 27, went on to thank his heavily pregnant girlfriend, Alyce Taylor (pictured together in 2012), for sticking by his side despite the horrific allegations levelled against him
De Belin, 27, went on to thank his heavily pregnant girlfriend, Alyce Taylor, for sticking by his side despite the horrific allegations against him.
'I want to thank my partner, family, friends, the club, members, sponsors and fans for the support they have given me during this difficult time,' he said.
The forward is accused of raping a 19-year-old girl with his friend Callan Sinclair after they invited her home following a night out in Wollongong on Saturday December 8.
He pleaded not guilty when he faced Wollongong Local Court, and was previously told he could continue playing for the team as he fought the charge.
But the NRL on Thursday announced a new policy which says that players charged with criminal offences can be banned while proceedings continue.
Under the new rules, a player charged with any offence that carries a prison term of 11 years or more will be stood down, and players whose offending involves women or children can also be stood down, despite the accompanying sentence.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
The forward (pictured on the ball in September) is accused of raping a 19-year-old girl with his friend after they invited her home following a night out in Wollongong in December
De Belin (pictured on holiday with his girlfriend) pleaded not guilty when he faced Wollongong Local Court
In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie told reporters they believed the decision was 'in the best interests of the game'.
'What we've unanimously decided to do is establish a benchmark, where there is a no fault stand down for players who are charged with serious criminal offences above that line [of an indictable criminal offence that carries a jail term of 11 years or more],' he said.
'Underneath that, there will be charges that aren't in that severity, but that will be for the CEO to deal with.'
Mr Beattie said the NRL was not attempting to judge guilt or innocence, but wanted to protect the quickly eroding reputation of the sport.
'The issues of innocence and guilt are determined by the court,' he said.
'We are creating a benchmark and standard to protect the sport.
'This is, in a nutshell, about rebuilding the reputation of rugby league.
'This is also about sending a clear message, that the game does not tolerate violence, does not tolerate violence against women, does not tolerate violence against children.'
Under the previous policy, players were allowed to