Manly coach Des Hasler has apologised for the "mismanagement" of the club's pride jersey launch that will lead to seven players sitting out Thursday night's match against Sydney Roosters at 4Pines Park.
Hasler confirmed that the players would miss the important match after they were not consulted over the decision to wear the jersey and he said what was intended to be a positive initiative had been handled poorly.
The Sea Eagles coach and captain Daly Cherry-Evans fronted a media conference on Tuesday to issue a wide-ranging apology and Hasler admitted the fall-out had impacted on the NRL's Women In League Round.
He said Manly would still wear the jersey against the Roosters but defended the right of the seven players to sit out the match.
"We are here today to apologise for a significant mistake made by the Manly Sea Eagles Football Club," Hasler told reporters on Tuesday.
"As you are aware, the club yesterday launched a jersey for Women in League round. We changed our traditional jersey with the application of rainbow colours to replace all the white spaces and white lines.
"The intent of the rainbow colour application of our jersey was to represent diversity and inclusion... embracing all groups who feel marginalised, face discrimination and have a suppressed share of voice.
“The jersey’s intent was to support the advocacy and human rights pertaining to gender, race, culture, ability and LGBTQ movements.
“Sadly, the execution of what was intended to be an extremely important initiative was poor. There was little consultation or collaboration between key stakeholders, both inside and outside the club.
"Sadly, this poor mismanagement has cause significant confusion, discomfort and pain for many people.
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"We have even adversely affected our playing group, a wonderful group of people comprising of many different races and cultural backgrounds.
“We wish to sincerely apologise for the mistakes we have made," Hasler said. "We wish to apologise to the minority groups within the community who embrace the rainbow colours as a symbol of pride in who they are and what they stand for.
“We wish to apologise to the LGBTQ community who embrace the rainbow colour for pride and advocacy and human rights issues. We accept your cultural beliefs and hope that you can accept our apology.
“We wish to apologise to the Australian Rugby League Commission, all the NRL and the other 15 NRL clubs for creating negative news, shifting the spotlight from the launch of the Women in League round.
“We wish to apologise to our own playing group and staff for any confusion, discomfort and pain that the mistake we have made may have caused them.
Hasler confirmed that while several players would not feature for the club on Thursday night, the club would still wear the Everyone in League jersey.
"The players will not play on Thursday, and we accept their decision," he said. "These young men are strong in their beliefs and convictions, and we will give them the space and the support they require.
“For any person struggling with identity, we acknowledge the challenges and difficulties. My heart goes out to you and your families, and if the club can personally do anything to assist, we will. We are here, we offer our complete support.
“I apologise to anyone to whom this matter has caused distress.”
Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans said the team would continue to support each other, and "come together to try to do something special on Thursday night."
He insisted the Sea Eagles would still field a strong team, despite the absence of so many players.
"We have to make sure that we look after our teammates because this has been a period that they would not have experienced before," he said.
"We're experiencing a lot of things for the first time as a playing group.
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"Sometimes the hardest situations in sport are situations you have to deal with that are out of your control.
"One thing that we can control as a playing group is accepting the decision that some players have taken, and trying to find the silver lining.
"There are going to be 17 players out there celebrating inclusiveness and diversity, and hopefully we can start to shift the attention towards the good intentions that were had."
ARLC Chairman Peter V'landys AM said he respected the decision of the players who did not want to wear the jersey.
"I respect the players' choice. They've got religious and cultural differences and that's the beauty about Australia, we all have those freedoms," V'landys said at Tuesday's Harvey Norman Women in League Breakfast.
"Let me say this, though, that one thing I take pride in in rugby league is that we treat everyone the same. We're all human beings. It doesn't matter what your colour is, what your sexual orientation is or race is, we're all equal.
"We'll never ever take a backward step in having our sport inclusive but, at the same time, we will not disrespect those players' freedoms, and they've got those freedoms.
"If they don't wish to play then I respect that. They are well-aware of our policy in inclusion and we take pride in that. That's our stance at the moment."
Match: Sea Eagles v Roosters
Round 20 -
Venue: 4 Pines Park, Sydney