Manly coach Des Hasler has apologised for the Sea Eagles’ handling of their inclusion jersey after seven players chose to boycott Thursday’s crucial NRL clash with the Sydney Roosters.
In a 10-minute apology on Tuesday, Hasler conceded his club had made a grave error in not consulting players before unveiling their “everyone in league” jersey.
The jersey features rainbow colours taking up the normal white space on Manly’s strip, recognising minority groups such as the LGBTQI community pushing for more acceptance and basic human rights.
Hasler said he supported the jersey, with the club making the call to go ahead with wearing it after a lengthy meeting with players on Monday night.
But ultimately, not all players were on board, citing religious, cultural and family concerns over the rainbow strip.
The result is that Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley will all sit out the match, in a significant blow to Manly’s finals hopes.
“Personally I share the views that are inclusiveness across the game and society,” Hasler said.
“It is an important matter and the NRL is for everyone.
“In this specific instance I also feel for these players. They were not included in the discussions around the jersey.
“At a minimum they should have been consulted.”
Hasler said he was concerned for the players’ welfare with the group to still attend the match, noting that spirituality is at the core of their wellbeing.
But he also apologised to all minority groups, the LGBTQI community, ARL Commission, the 15 others clubs, his whole playing group and those organising this weekend’s Women in League round for the sideshow and hurt caused.
“Our intent was to be caring and passionate towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily,” Hasler said.
“Sadly this poor management has cause significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people.
“In particular those group whose human rights we in fact attempting to support.”
Manly are the only club to wear a pride jersey this weekend, becoming the first team in the 114-year history of the competition to wear such a design.
The issue could not have popped up at a worse time for Manly or Hasler, with the Sea Eagles and Roosters placed either side of the top-eight dividing line.
The subject has also split rugby league, with different sets of players privately voicing their own concerns with both the handling of the matter and the end outcome.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys backed Manly’s choice to push ahead with the design, despite it leaving Thursday night’s prime-time game without several stars.
But he said the club made a mistake in not consulting the players and working with them collaboratively on the jersey.
“I respect the players’ choice. They have religious and cultural differences and that is the thing about Australia, we all have those freedoms,” V’landys said.
“But one thing I take pride in with rugby league is we treat everyone the same.
“We are all human beings, it doesn’t matter your colour, sexual orientation or race. We’re all equal.
“And we’ll never take a backward step in having our sport inclusive. But at the same time we will not disrespect our players’ freedoms.”
Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans said it was his job to try and spur on what he insisted was still a united playing group, adamant they could still upset the Roosters.
“I’m really trying to encourage people to have an open mind on what has happened,” Cherry-Evans said.
“As society we have a long way to go on topics like this. But there are going to be people out there wearing the jersey.
“I will be out there proudly wearing the jersey and trying to endorse inclusiveness and diversity.
“Eventually once we get over the fact people have made the decision not to play, there are going to be people who made the decision to wear the jersey.”