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Michael Lichaa: NRL faces fresh calls to scrap no-fault stand-down rule

Rugby league’s no-fault stand-down rule has come under fire once again, with a lawyer for Michael Lichaa calling for it to be scrapped after it was revealed the ex-Bulldog was blocked from playing park football last year.

Mr Lichaa, 29, was forced to withdraw from the game he loves amid an 18-month legal battle to clear his name that culminated when a magistrate last week acquired him of domestic violence offences.

The former Lebanon international’s world was turned upside down in February last year when he was charged with a string of offenses after a late-night incident at his Connells Point home.

But it can now be revealed that Mr Lichaa was blocked from playing park footy after being charged when the NSWRL refused to register his contract.

The NRL in 2019 introduced its no-fault stand-down rule under which any player facing serious criminal charges, which carry a jail term of 11 years or more, is automatically sidelined.

The NSWRL adopted similar guidelines.

“The NSWRL did not register a contract for Michael Lichaa last season for bringing the game into disrepute after he was charged with several serious offences, including common assault and intimidation,” a NSWRL spokesman said.

“The NSWRL reviewed the situation this season and registered a contract for Lichaa.”

Mr Lichaa’s 113-game NRL career came to an end in 2019 when Canterbury did not offer him a contract for the following year.

He did not pick up a contract with a rival club and signed on to play for Cronulla Caringbah in the Sydney Shield in an effort to keep fit and in the hope of attracting a suitor.

However, his career was put on hold while he fought the charges after the NSWRL refused to register a contract.

Mr Lichaa was eventually found not guilty on Friday. His former partner of him declined to testify against him.

Mr Lichaa was acquitted of charges of common assault and intimidation, though he pleaded guilty to one charge of destruction of property after he punched a glass door.

The Sutherland Local Court was told last week that he had since retired from rugby league and was now working as a project manager.

Sam Saadat represented the former Cronulla and Canterbury hooker throughout the horror 18-month ordeal.

He said he understood the intent behind the no-fault rule but argued it hadn’t had the effect it was supposed to.

In the summer of 2018-19, the NRL was hit by a string of scandals – 17 incidents and allegations between September and mid-February – that prompted then ARLC chairman Peter Beattie to draft the rule.

But Mr Saadat, who is also heavily involved in rugby league and has coached at the Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters in the women’s and developmental ranks, said the rules needed a rethink.

“I understand where the NSWRL and NRL are coming from, but I think it needs to be revisited. If you look at the examples… almost every single one was acquitted,” he said.

“And as a result, if you look at the impact it’s had on their careers and mental health, I think the prejudice far outweighs the policy’s purpose.

“The game has a right to administer itself how it wants and the Federal Court found that when (Jack) de Belin challenged it. But I think they need to revisit that decision. We now have examples of where it hasn’t worked.”

Tristan Sailor, Dylan Walker and Tui Kamikamica were all stood down after being charged by police before either being found not guilty or having the charges dismissed.

De Belin did not play for the entirety of the 2019 and 2020 NRL seasons before he was allowed to return midway through last year when the Director of Public Prosecutions elected not to pursue a third sexual assault trial.

Two juries could not arrive at a verdict, though he and co-accused Callan Sinclair were found not guilty of one count following their second trial.

Manase Fainu is facing trial in the Parramatta District Court where he has pleaded not guilty to wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and denied stabbing a church youth leader in the back.

Penrith’s Tyrone May was the only player stood down under the policy to be convicted.

May narrowly escaped jail after he pleaded guilty to four counts of intentionally recording an intimate image without consent.

Mr Saadat called for the NRL to hold a conference between players, administrators and lawyers to look at the policy.

“The game is supposed to be a reflection of society,” he said.

“Legally, everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

“In this case even if it’s worded as a no-fault policy, it’s somewhat prejudicial. In people’s minds it creates an impression they must be guilty. I think it’s fundamentally unfair.”

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