KNIGHTS chief executive Phil Gardner will not be surprised if Jack de Belin plays against Newcastle in Mudgee on Sunday, should the controversial St George Illawarra forward receive a favourable ruling in the Federal Court on Friday.
De Belin, the Dragons and incumbent NSW Origin lock, was stood down by the NRL on the eve of the season after being charged with the aggravated sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman in a Wollongong unit last December.
De Belin has pleaded not guilty and launched legal action against the ARL Commission and NRL in a bid to overturn their "no-fault" stand-down sanction.
Justice Melissa Perry will hand down her judgment at 4pm on Friday, and de Belin hopes her decision will allow him to resume his career.
Gardner, a prominent supporter of the NRL's tough stance against players charged with serious criminal offences, said the Knights would respect Justice Perry's judgment.
"We play within the rules," Gardner told the Newcastle Herald.
"We might not agree with what the umpire says, but if the umpire says he can come back then there will be no bad feeling from us. That is simply where we sit."
De Belin was not named on Tuesday in the Dragons' official 21-man squad to take on the Knights, which would normally rule him ineligible.
But there have been suggestions St George Illawarra officials will seek an 11th-hour exemption, should Justice Perry rule in de Belin's favour. Whether such permission would be granted is another matter, given that the the ARL Commission is reportedly planning to appeal if the judgement goes against them.
"We're preparing as if he's going to play," Gardner said of de Belin.
"Certainly if it's within the rules that he can play, and he complies, then he can play.
"If he does, we know there will be a lot of energy from Jack, because he'll be taking a lot of frustration onto the field. So we'd prefer not to face him, but if that's what happens, that's what happens."
Gardner reiterated his support for the NRL's decision to stand down a number of players, including de Belin, Manly's Dylan Walker and Penrith's Tyrone May, after being charged with crimes against women.
Walker was cleared this week of allegations that he assaulted his partner.
"Our view is that if you are charged with a criminal offence that carries a jail term of more than 11 years, you should be stood down," Gardner said.
"We think that's in the best interest of the player, as well as the person that brought the charge, the game and the club.
"I think that's probably been accepted by everybody, and probably even St George.
"The issue that de Belin has brought up is the rule charge came up after he offended. So is the rule change effective for him?"
In contrast to Gardner, Knights coach Nathan Brown felt that even if de Belin received a positive judgment, he would be unlikely to play on Sunday.
"We've only prepared for the players they [the Dragons] have named," Brown said.
"I think if you're not named in the 21, you can't play, unless there is a dramatic instance. So we haven't prepared for him. We're not expecting him to play, as he hasn't been named.
"But we can only control what we can control, and whatever the outcome is, it is. We'll just prepare for the 21 that are there."
Brown said de Belin was "a good player" and joked: "It would be ideal if he makes his comeback a week later."
De Belin has won 10 of the 13 games he has played against Newcastle and dominated them in a 30-12 win in Wollongong last year, after which Brown admitted: "Jack de Belin raised the pace of the game with his defence. We struggled to go with them for a period."