Although there hasn’t been a whole lot of debate on this topic for a while, over the last few days I’ve seen numerous Super League teams teasing their 2020 squad numbers on their social media accounts.
If it wasn’t already clear, each player in the squad has a designated number (and their name) on the back of their jersey for the entire season, which is something I think would benefit the NRL if they adopted it.
As with every innovation, there are a number of pros and cons, however, I do believe the former outweighs the latter.
First of all, spectators will have an easier time identifying individual players on the field. In my first few years of following the NRL – and not to mention a team that plays out of ANZ Stadium – I can admit that it did take me a while to spot exactly who made that incredible put-down in the corner, or who it was that took that impressive catch on the other side of the pitch.
Conversely though – and this is mainly adhering to the casual fans – but the negative to this is that it would be hard to see which players were playing in which positions. Currently you can tell that a winger would be either in the #2 or #5 jerseys, but with a lot of mid-season changing of sides, you might not necessarily see the same numbers in their respective positions.
But on the topic of identification, the biggest drawcard to this idea is that it gives each of the 400-plus players in the competition a unique identity and a more recognisable brand. If you need an example, just look at the Super League’s Man of Steel Jackson Hastings, who donned the interesting #31 jersey while leading Salford to a grand final appearance.
In soccer, there’s the famous CR7 moniker given to Cristiano Ronaldo in the #7 jersey.
For the NRL, we could take Newcastle Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga as the perfect example of a beneficiary to this idea.
Already a fan favourite in the Hunter region, Ponga has made the fullback jersey his own in red and blue, barring a short-lived experiment in the #6 jersey early in the season.
So you can imagine the pulling power this would have and how many jersey sales a Ponga #1 jersey would make. Think how many kids not only in the district but around Australia would be wearing a KP1 jersey.
The same could be said for a number of players throughout the league such as Jason Taumalolo in the #13, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the #1 and Jarrod Croker in the #3.
The average pundit is already splashing upwards of $160 for a plain club jersey, so this initiative would give more value to donning their team’s colours. I can already envision an army of Tigers supporters wearing the famous Marshall #6 shirt at Leichhardt Oval during his last season of first-grade in 2020.
Similarly, jersey collectors would be both loving and hating this addition, following a players’ career through their jersey numbers. I think of a John Sutton collection with #4, #6, #11, #12 and #13 jerseys fittingly representing the Souths legend’s 15-year career well up on a wall.
And let’s not forget the whole reason of this article – teams are able to tease and engage with fans on the prediction of their squad numbers and their leading players in each position (although that isn’t always the case).
After careful consideration, I fully believe that the NRL should get rid of the boring numbering system that is in place in favour of squad numbers. Most other sporting codes have adopted this style or similar ones, it’s already a staple in the English Super League, and it would be a great initiative heading into the new decade.