Seven Sea Eagles players to boycott NRL crunch clash over pride jersey

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Manly Warringah Sea Eagles have confirmed seven of their players will sit out their NRL clash with Sydney Roosters on Thursday over the team's decision to wear a pride jersey.

The Northern Beaches outfit are set to become the first club in the competition's history to sport a specialised strip, with rainbow stripes in place of the club's typical white set to show support for the LGBTQ+ community.

But the club have become embroiled in a boycott by seven players, who say they were not consulted on the decision, and have objected on religious and cultural grounds.

In a press conference on Tuesday, coach Des Hasler apologised to both the LGBTQ+ community and the players, stating they should have been consulted on plans to wear the strip.

"They were not included in any of the discussions, and at a minimum, they should have been consulted," the two-time NRL premiership-winning boss said.

Though the club has not named the seven who will sit out the clash, reports in local media have identified them as Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau'atu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley.

The match is a crucial one for both Manly and Sydney, with the winner taking the advantage in the race to reach the NRL playoffs in September.

While Hasler added that he respected the decision of the players, backlash to it has been widespread.

Former Manly star Ian Roberts, the first rugby league footballer to come out as gay, said the decision "saddens" him.

Ex-Wakefield Trinity prop Keegan Hirst, who became the first professional British rugby league player to come out as gay, in 2015, questioned the players' beliefs given Manly are sponsored by a betting firm.

ARLC Chairman Peter V'landys meanwhile stated the competition could introduce a pride round as soon as the 2023 season, in response to the furore, pointing to the game's history of immigrant inclusivity as a springboard.

"It was inclusive back then and it is inclusive now," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's important that every boy and girl and man and woman can go to the game and feel they can be treated the same as everyone else."

This is not the first time the NRL has sought to make a stand opposing LGBTQ+ discrimination, with the league previously blacklisting ex-Wallabies star Israel Folau following his attempts to return to rugby league after he was dismissed from rugby union.

The centre ultimately landed at Catalans Dragons in Super League, before returning to Australia and then Japan, where he currently plays with the Shining Arcs.

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