A group of Sea Eagles players were blindsided by Manly’s pride jersey this week, but Hollywood icon Hugh Jackman knew about the design several weeks ago.
Jackman agreed to help promote this week’s Gotcha4Life Cup match between Manly and the Sydney Roosters, where more than $200,000 will be raised to fight mental illness.
The Hollywood A-lister, who like Gotcha4Life founder and childhood mate Gus Worland is a diehard Sea Eagles supporter, received a replica Manly jersey in the post a few weeks ago, proudly pointing at the not-for-profit foundation’s logo for a photo.
Jackman also signed the jersey, which will be auctioned this week.
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That image was plastered on the front page of The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday morning – but everyone’s focus was on the jersey’s rainbow strip.
On Tuesday, Manly coach Des Hasler confirmed seven players had decided to boycott this week’s NRL match because of the one-off pride jersey, citing religious and cultural beliefs.
The Sea Eagles are on the verge of slipping out of the top eight, but Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley were willing to tarnish the club’s finals chances over something as frivolous as a rainbow stripe.
But Jackman saw an opportunity to turn the front-page splash into a positive.
“I woke up this morning and saw that front page and thought, ‘Aw, he hates it when he’s on the front page’,” Worland told news.com.au on Wednesday.
“But he goes, ‘Mate, it’s awesome. Let’s turn it around. Let’s talk about Gotcha4Life. Let’s see how much good we can do with the money that’s been donated.’
“That’s him to a tee.”
Unfortunately, Jackman won’t be at 4 Pines Park this Thursday evening due to Broadway commitments, but the 53-year-old has recorded a piece-to-camera that will be broadcast at the match.
Almost four decades ago, Worland and Jackman appeared in their high school production of The Music Man together.
The pair were cast as ensemble members for the Knox Grammar musical, but the experience sparked a lifelong passion for musical theatre.
Thirty-nine years later, Jackman is playing the leading man in Broadway’s revival of the classic musical, while Worland is a popular sports commentator and Triple M presenter who speaks to 60,000 schoolkids every year about mental health.
He was not only the best man at Jackman’s wedding, but also the godfather of his firstborn.
Worland initially had the idea for the Gotcha4Life Cup a few years ago, but the inaugural event was pushed back due to Covid-19 complications.
On Sunday, Worland chatted to the Roosters playing group for 40 minutes about his foundation, which aims to lower suicide numbers in Australia to zero.
“I was pretty nervous,” he admitted.
“Walking into a room with all those heroes are just sitting there looking at you, and you’re telling some really emotional stories.
“Sam Verrills got quite emotional, as I did.
“I love the fact the Roosters look after their players in a way that’s not just about footy. It’s about life in general.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled… when I went to the club, they literally within 20 minutes were like, ‘Yeah, we’re in’, so it was organized really quickly.
“Now that it’s here, it’s wonderful.”
The pride jersey saga has regrettably shifted focus away from the Gotcha4Life Cup, which coincides with the Women in League round, but Worland is determined to shift the narrative back to what truly matters.
“At times like this it’s more important than ever to focus on exactly what Gotcha4Life is all about,” he said.
“I’m just really keen to change the narrative from the jersey to a couple of wonderful sponsors that have donated $100,000 each, which we can put back into mental fitness.
“Let’s try to make something really positive out of what’s been a very traumatic last few days, especially for Manly.
“I’m hoping in this next 36 hours we can actually make a difference.”
With the help of former Manly player Ian Roberts, the first openly gay NRL footballer, Worland will put aside a portion of funds raised to assist LGBTI communities.
There will be several aspiring rugby league players around Australia, potentially even Manly supporters, struggling with their sexuality who would have been left devastated by the Sea Eagles players’ boycott.
“I feel for everyone involved; the players, the club, people personally affected by this and dealing with a lot of stuff that’s confronting and stressful,” he said.
“It would be wrong for me to say I can understand what they’re going through. All I can say is that I can imagine what they’re going through, and I’m here for them, and Gotcha4Life is here for them.
“I’m sad that the last couple of days have happened, but out of it we can make something positive.”
You can donate to Gotcha4Life here.