Manly owner wants NRL inclusion round as boycotting players told to stay away from game

Manly boss Scott Penn wants to speak with the NRL about introducing an inclusion round next season and is confident all of his players would participate after a year of dialogue.

The Sea Eagles owner flew back into Sydney from the USA on Thursday, before meeting with the seven Manly players who stood down from the Sydney Roosters match – and who have subsequently been barred from attending Brookvale Oval on Thursday night over safety concerns.

Top of Penn’s priorities is to ensure the Sea Eagles are unified with all players back to face Parramatta next week and the finals still a reality. The Manly chair also issued a statement to the club’s fans, stating a review would be held into why all staff and players were not aware of the club’s jersey before it was released publicly.

But he make no apologies for the jersey, stressing Manly wanted it to promote inclusivity for all, be it with race, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation. Manly owners will also donate $100,000 to the Gotcha4Life charity, with money from the game going to support the mental welfare of the LGBTQI community.

But also on Penn’s agenda is speaking to the NRL about next year’s calendar, and he is willing to take the criticism of recent days if it results in long-term change. ARLC chair Peter V’landys revealed this week he was open to the idea of a pride or inclusion round, stressing the decision was ultimately one for the Commission.

And Penn himself said he was fully behind the idea, hoping it was a positive to come out of a week of criticism and drama while also vowing to wear an inclusion jersey again in 2023.

“We will take some learnings out of this but the most important thing is we will be bigger and stronger next year,” Penn told AAP. “We would like that to be with a game-wide initiative. We will be working with the NRL, obviously discussing how we can do it better.

“And then how we can do it better as a game. But I think what this week has done has brought us a lot closer to it than we were before. We were maybe shying away from it before. And if this conversation takes us further down the pathway to resolving it and hearing everyone’s opinions, then I think it is a great outcome.”

V’landys conceded this week that could prompt some players to skip such a round next year, stating that they had the freedom to do so if they did not agree with the NRL’s values. But when asked if he thought he would have a greater chance of getting his players involved after a year of conversation around it, Penn was adamant he could.

“Absolutely. It’s about mutual respect,” Penn said. “And inclusiveness of everyone. Maybe we call it respect round. Or everyone in league. Maybe we didn’t get the label right this year. But in the end we have to move forward. And that’s my priority.”

Meanwhile, the seven boycotting players have been asked to stay away from Thursday night’s game after Manly officials spoke with police on Wednesday and decided their presence at the ground would pose a threat to their safety.

“For the safety and wellbeing of the players, the club has decided that it’s best that they don’t attend the game,” Manly interim Chief Executive Gary Wolman told the Australian newspaper.

New South Wales Police said police officers had conducted a “risk assessment” and were satisfied with “the strategies in place to mitigate any risk to the players and attendees’ safety and security”.

They added that police had received no formal reports of threats made toward players.