Cheer squads have long welcomed fans, hyped up crowds and supported players through the highs and lows of rugby league. But they could be sidelined for good.
Cheer squads have long welcomed fans, hyped up crowds and supported players through the highs and lows of rugby league. But they could be sidelined for good.

Will NRL’s cheerleaders survive COVID-19?

CHEERLEADERS and mascots could be sidelined, as NRL clubs move to tighten game day budgets to ensure their survival through COVID-19.

Since the 1960s, cheer squads have welcomed fans at the gate, hyped up crowds and supported players through the highs and lows of rugby league.

Now, NRL sides must adjust to a new game day atmosphere of empty stadiums and fake crowd noises - without the iconic squads to cheer them on.

But Cronulla Sharks Mermaids choreographer Jacqueline-Lee Elliott is determined to keep the vibrant NRL tradition alive.

Cronulla Sharks cheerleaders Steph Buncombe, Sassy Gallagher, Emma Dugley, Christina Tsafis and Ellie Bull. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Cronulla Sharks cheerleaders Steph Buncombe, Sassy Gallagher, Emma Dugley, Christina Tsafis and Ellie Bull. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

"They are great ambassadors for the club, they add a female voice, they're a massive part of game day entertainment, from greeting fans at the gate to pregame and half-time entertainment," Ms Elliott said.

"They also add colour, a bit of fun, and young kids really look up to them."

Through her company JLD Entertainment, Ms Elliott provides entertainment for various NRL clubs. The former Mermaid fears clubs will cut back on game day entertainment to survive.

"Seeing how hard the clubs have been hit, there will be a ripple effect in game day entertainment for not only this season and next season," Ms Elliott said.

NRL sides must adjust to a new game day atmosphere of empty stadiums and fake crowd noises - without the iconic squads to cheer them on.
NRL sides must adjust to a new game day atmosphere of empty stadiums and fake crowd noises - without the iconic squads to cheer them on.

 

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"Whether or not clubs will have funds to put a (cheer) squad on the field, I don't know … it would be really sad for them to go,

"If it's not in the club's game day budget, it will definitely affect cheer squads on the field, it's a reality and I've been very upfront with my dancers and teams."

The Mermaids have been training hard since October last year.

Ms Elliott said that most fans underestimate the training and commitment required to be an NRL cheerleader - many women work multiple jobs and drive two-hour trips just to perform with the elite squad.

Cheerleader squads are determined to get back to games despite the COVID-19 threat.
Cheerleader squads are determined to get back to games despite the COVID-19 threat.

"Being a mermaid, it's something they've looked forward to growing up, some have auditioned before and finally made the squad, and now they can't be part of the season," Ms Elliott said.

"It's very disappointing, they work so hard."

Mermaid Emma Dugley said that once it is deemed safe, her squad is determined to return to the NRL.

"Cheerleading has adapted over many years to come to what it is today," Ms Dugley said.

"Fans love being greeted by smiling faces at the gates, children love having photos of us and aspiring to be us one day, and half time entertainment would just not be the same without an impeccable squad on the field,"

"We get the opportunity to participate in many additional events for the Sharks and the NRL including launch days, visits to children's hospitals, football and dance clinics, and local fairs and events."

Originally published as Will NRL's cheerleaders survive COVID-19?



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