After the fallout from the club’s pride jersey rollout saw seven players withdraw due to not wanting to wear the colourful kit, the Sea Eagles gave a great account of themselves, eventually going down 20-10 to the Roosters in front of an adoring home crowd at Brookvale.
Cherry-Evans and coach Des Hasler fronted a press conference for the second time in a matter of days, both looking worn down from what has no doubt been a stressful period.
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However, the tumultuous week left both the Manly skipper and coach hopeful about what lies ahead as the club attempts to heal a fractured dressing room.
“I think it’s really important for us to understand where everyone comes from,” Cherry-Evans said.
“For us to play in this jersey, how can we not go in there and understand and accept what people have done if we’re out here trying to represent inclusiveness and diversity?
“It’s not easy. As Des said, there’s human emotion attached to this, so it’s not going to be perfect, but it could bring us together like never before.
“I always see the opportunity in things and I think this can be a chance for us to come together and understand a bit more about each other and learn from it and move on.”
Hasler admitted the there was “work to do” in order to heal the wounds.
“I’m just being honest,” the veteran coach said.
“As long as we’re all sympathetic to each other’s causes, we’ll get there. It’s been very emotional on all different aspects, but we’re humans and I think as long as we take learning lessons out of it and as long as we grow.
“Going forward it’s never going to be solved, but at the same time, we certainly don’t want to be able to shy away from the work to do. We need to be honest.”
Despite he and his teammates giving a great account of themselves on Thursday in the special pride jersey, Cherry-Evans offered a warning to the NRL on the perils of pushing causes on players.
“As a player, I think we need to be really careful about how much we push onto the players to commercialise the game,” he said.
“If you look at a dressing room, it is very diverse and it is very inclusive. I just wonder how much we need to do as athletes to push out there because we already are a lot of things of what we’re trying to represent, what the club tries to make you represent.
“So I think at some stage, we have to understand that sport is pretty inclusive. It’s not perfect, it does have boundaries, but from my time in the game, it does represent a lot of the things of what we’re talking about tonight.
“Unfortunately, when people get put in a position to have to do something they don’t want to do, then I think that’s when you see positions like tonight.”
There wasn’t a lack of support from those in the stands at Brookvale for the seven players absent from the fixture, and Hasler said he expected fans to be sympathetic to the players upon their return to the side.
The seven players have indicated to club management that they aren’t against wearing the pride jersey as long as they’re given notice beforehand.
The tumultuous lead-up also saw gay rugby league icon Ian Roberts, who came out in 1995 while playing for the Sea Eagles, propose a conversation with the players involved.
“I totally respect their view, but there needs to be a conversation. We need to sit around and talk civilly to each other,” he said.
“While I’m disappointed I can also see this as a positive, because this is a starting point again for the NRL to have these conversations about what a Pride Round is all about, the essence of what a Pride Round is.
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“As an older gay man, this is not unfamiliar. That’s all I can say. We need these pride rounds… education is what it’s all about.”
Hasler was asked about that potential conversation and expressed optimism.
“I can see it happening,” the veteran coach said as he and Cherry-Evans ended the press conference, and with that, a week they are likely to never forget.
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