St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin indicated he was unlikely to rush Jack de Belin in for Thursday night’s match against Brisbane after the former NSW Origin star ran out the rust in his first outing for almost 1,000 days on Saturday.
De Belin took the field midway through the first half of the NSW Cup clash between the Dragons and Wests Magpies at Lidcombe Oval and showed in his 45-minute stint that he will quickly adjust to changes in the game since his last appearance on September 15, 2018.
Griffin was pleased with what he saw from the 30-year-old forward and believes the increased speed of the game may suit de Belin once he regains full match fitness but suggested it may be too soon to select him for the clash with the Broncos at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
“We just wanted to see him play today and see how he's pulled up and go from there,” Griffin said. “Everyone wants to know when he's going to play and is it going to be next Thursday. That might be a bit premature I think.
“We'll just make sure he's not coming back too early, but today didn't do him any harm. It was good. That's what I expected to see.
“Getting to know him, he is such a driven character. He was always going to throw himself in today.”
De Belin's partner Alyce Taylor and their two children were among the family and friends on hand to watch de Belin’s first match in 987 days after sexual assault charges against him were officially withdrawn on Friday.
Dragons team-mates Ben Hunt, Zac Lomax, Tariq Sims and Andrew McCullough also looked on as he made two hit-ups in the first set of tackles after coming on in the 18th minute and appeared to quickly run out of puff.
“I think he had four or five carries in the first five minutes when he went on,” he said. “He lost his wind early. He had a lot of involvements and once he got his second wind back, he was really good.
‘I was watching him and he was totally gassed for a little while. He couldn't get into a kick-chase but after two-and-a-half years out, it was a pretty good hit-out I thought.
“He fell off a couple of tackles here and there, but I thought in general his movements around the field were really good. After that first period he got himself in the game every chance he had with the ball. Defensively he was solid.”
Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire and trainer Ron Palmer were other interested onlookers as they maintained an eye on the young talent in the club's NSW Cup team, who are in second place after the 26-18 win over the Dragons.
Griffin said he was looking forward to working with de Belin for the first time when he joins the NRL squad for training on Monday and believes that his mobility and low tackling technique will be suited to the rule changes introduced since 2018.
Rushing de Belin back 'furthest thing' from Griffin's mind
“He has obviously been around but just to have him officially back training with the squad, it will be great for them and great for the club,” Griffin said. “He's a pretty smart player. He will fit in no risk to team structures and things like that.
“He's a mobile forward and can play long minutes. That's not easy to do - 45-odd minutes with a lot of set restarts. The ball has been in play and a pretty good standard and he has rolled with it pretty well.
“Once he found his legs he moved around the field really good and looked like a first-grader playing second grade which is always a good sign.”