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'It’s such a little thing but it’s such a big advantage': Do tight jerseys really matter?

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24th September, 2021

In a world where professional sport is scrutinised from every angle, it is little wonder the smaller details are starting to make bigger differences.

When it comes to rugby league, a secret war is being fought between the clubs, but ironically it is being waged in full view of the fans – it’s the battle of the humble rugby league jersey.

Gone are the days when a player could be picked up, swung around and driven sharply into the mud by the scruff of his loose-fitting strip.

Goodbye collars and see you later giant, ill-fitting sleeves, you have been replaced by a new breed of tight apparel that would make Thorpedo’s bodysuit look like a sloppy muumuu.

The battle for every micro advantage has seen the savvier clubs introduce an increasingly tight range of jerseys for its players, each searching for what will make their players harder to grab, more elusive when they step and tougher to catch after making a break.

James Tedesco breaks through a tackle.

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Former rugby league journeyman Luke Phillips recently told The Voluntary Tackle podcast that this arms race to make jerseys tighter and better fitted is a sideshow that most punters would think little about, but actually makes a significant difference to team performance.

“When you have a tight jersey it’s very difficult to slow down the ruck because there is nothing to grab on to and when teams like Melbourne play the lower sides, which have looser jerseys, you can see it obviously in the ruck that it is slowing the play the ball down,” Phillips argues.

“I’ve been doing a little bit of work for the Dragons and hopefully next year we will get ours as tight, when I was with ‘Freddy’ (Brad Fittler) at Origin we got it done there and at Penrith as well, because Melbourne have been the leaders in the area and have been doing it for a long time.


“It’s such a little thing but it’s such a big advantage.”

The tackle-breaking abilities of a superstar like James Tedesco is down in part down to his tight jersey, Phillips believes, stating the Roosters’ number one has a top that is practically “painted on”.

But just ordering a few sizes smaller is not going to get the job done effectively, Phillips explains. The mission of suturing fabric to the unique contours of each individual athlete’s body is a virtual science to get right.

“It’s a big thing to get done, it’s not just a five-minute job, it’s quite a big exercise to get them fitted. Most teams have three or four sets and three or four different types of jerseys so it’s not easy to do but once it’s done it’s a big advantage,” Phillips said.

With jerseys already looking more like the skin of a sleek sea lion than a top, we can only speculate where this clothing challenge goes next. The panel on The Voluntary Tackle suggested full-body tattoos, but with the churn in player swaps, this might make for a painful exercise.