Sea Eagles fear fan backlash, next gen Fulton named in squad

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Debutants Pio Seci and Alfred Smalley were named on the wing. Back-rower Fulton, Kaeo Weekes and James Roumanos were listed on the extended bench.

Cherry-Evans sat alongside coach Des Hasler as a giant media throng listened to the pair discuss how they would navigate the rainbow jersey drama.

Facing the music … Daly Cherry-Evans and Des HaslerCredit:Getty Images

The No. 7 said he was proud to pull on the rainbow-inspired colours, and would be in the middle of 4 Pines Park “wearing the jersey, trying to endorse inclusiveness and diversity”.

Hasler was unsure of the response the seven players would receive from their club’s fans when he confirmed they would be at the ground. Should Manly lose and continue to slip down the ladder, the fan frustration could be directed at the players, who have strong religious and cultural beliefs.

There were never plans for the players to stay at home in a bid to prevent distractions or unwanted scenes at the suburban venue, where fan interaction is intense.

While Hasler and Cherry-Evans were concerned for the players’ welfare and mental state, Manly chairman Scott Penn said they would not be docked pay for making themselves unavailable.

One issue raised among the players was what happens when the club embraces the concept in the future.

The Herald can reveal it was the manufacturers of the Sea Eagles’ jersey, Dynasty Sport, who first suggested the concept at the start of the year. Penn backed the idea, as did the NRL when told about it.

But Hasler said the club made a mistake by not keeping players in the loop.

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Speaking from his New York base, Penn said: “The last thing we wanted to do was polarise anyone, and our intention was to celebrate inclusivity and diversity. Some of our players have felt this jersey is in contrast to their religious beliefs.

“It was totally an inclusivity and diversity jersey. It was never just about Pride. It was about saying we want everyone in the game and making them feel they can get involved. Players have been put in a tough position.

“We’re not going to force them to play, but we’re committed to the jersey and we’re committed to inclusion. We’re not walking away from our position. And we respect their beliefs.

“It’s just disappointing we’re here. We don’t want those players to be outcasts, but as a club we celebrate and support everyone. We have only done this from a good-hearted point of view.”

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