Manly’s rainbow-themed jersey was meant to promote inclusion but it left the Sea Eagles divided and the players forced to pick up the pieces.
- The Manly squad met after seven players chose not to wear the inclusion jersey
- Five of the seven players will return to the first-grade squad this round
- Jake Trbojevic says he is glad to have had the chance to speak to the players
Their stance was a shock for some players who took the field against the Roosters, such as Jake Trbojevic.
“My number one thing is footy so at first it was hard to comprehend, but we’ve got a really clear understanding of it and I’m really comfortable with it,” Trbojevic said.
The loss has left the Sea Eagles in a precarious position as they now sit 10th on the ladder.
“It’s almost do or die for us at the moment,” Lachlan Croker said.
“Obviously it was disappointing to not be able to play with those guys that you play with every week, but the decision was made and who am I to say the decision was wrong?”
Sea Eagles veteran Kieran Foran was one of the players that modeled the jersey in promotional videos two weeks before the players were told they would be required to wear it against the Roosters.
Foran did not think twice about wearing the jersey.
“I was more than happy to put on the jersey but that’s my beliefs,” he said.
Five of the seven players who boycotted wearing the jersey will return to Brookvale Oval this Friday to take on the Parramatta Eels.
Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley have been named in the Sea Eagles’ 17-player squad, while Josh Aloiai is injured and Josh Schuster missed selection.
But it has taken some work to get to this point, with the entire playing group being put through several mediation sessions.
“I don’t want to disclose those internal discussions, that’s for us as a club, but I can say that they all went well,” Foran said.
Before the group came together, Trbojevic arranged to meet with Aloiai one on one.
“Me and Josh get on really well, (we) told each other what we thought made sense,” Trbojevic said.
The players now insist there are no rifts or resentment lingering inside the squad.
“It’s all solved, we’ve talked about it,” Reuben Garrick said.
“That’s what you’ve got to do as a team. It’s not about any one person’s opinion.
“We’ve had those conversations. It was about letting them know how we felt and telling them how they felt and respecting decisions.”
Croker agreed with Garrick and said the group had been galvanized by the drama.
“It’s something I would have never thought about, so it’s a learning curve for a lot of us,” he said.
“Obviously it was a tough week for everyone but there’s no point dwelling on it now, and nothing but good stuff has come out of it, so we are focused on the next five weeks.”
While the Sea Eagles want to focus on winning their remaining five matches in a late finals bid, they are set to confront the complex situation again amid an ongoing debate about religious freedom and diversity in sport.
The NRL is considering introducing a full pride round next year for all 16 clubs, but given how Manly’s jersey backfired for the club, players admit the initiative could be met with resistance.
“It probably would [be difficult] based on how it went this year,” Trbojevic said.
Croker added: “Their beliefs are that strong, you just have to take your hat off to them, but it was an interesting one and hopefully something that doesn’t unfold again.”