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Opinion

Rugby league’s fraught history of expansion: A fashion perspective

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13th October, 2021
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Much has been written about rugby league’s chequered history when it comes to expanding the top-level competition with news of the coming ascension of the Redcliffe Dolphins to the National Rugby League.

Wait, what? It’s just the Dolphins. No place name. Didn’t Cronulla already try that and decide it was a silly idea?

Oh well, these things are usually trial and error. No more so than when it comes to branding and, especially, image.

I posit that this chequered recent history of expansion has much to do with a largely regrettable history of expansion team jerseys.

It’s taken North Queensland 25 years to come up with something even half-decent. Just a tip: ditch the yellow. It doesn’t work. I’m sure they’ll ruin it with something else, though. Plus ça change.

The Cowboys’ lone premiership triumph came against the equally uninspired Brisbane Broncos.

Despite having pretty good colours to work with, the Broncos have almost never done anything interesting with them. There was that period in the mid-1990s when they experimented with Croatian football-style diamonds. Since then, banality.

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Sure, Brisbane’s a very successful expansion team, but how much more successful could they have been if their players were inspired by a snazzy kit? It’s a now a 15-year premiership drought for the Broncos. Coincidence?

We’re still waiting for the Gold Coast Titans to stop looking (and often playing) like tourists wandering around one of the local resorts. The yellow thing applies to you too, Gold Coast.

The little lamented South Queensland Crushers inexplicably chose a jersey predominantly the colour of warm vomit.

The Western Reds forgot to design half of their jersey, with a potentially interesting colour combination terminated half-way down.

The Auckland Warriors started off on a great note, with their unlikely combination of blue and green immediately pleasing on the eye. For some reason, they abandoned that for solid black and have only recently seen the light. Perhaps better times are ahead.

Penrith didn’t win anything until they stopped wearing mission brown.

Newcastle’s period of success, not surprisingly, coincided with them wearing simple vertical stripes, rather than mucking about with asymmetrical half-and-half designs. Surely there’s a better way of showing you’re proud of your working-class supporters than those inexcusable high-vis jerseys.

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The Super League expansion franchises were stymied by the league’s weird stipulation that every team had to wear their colours in the same design. I’m not sure what that was about. Adelaide and Hunter never had a chance.

Wests Tigers are not, strictly speaking, an expansion team. But surely part of their much talked about journey to find a coherent identity must include finding a consistent colour composition.

Don’t try to be a hybrid of Wests and Balmain.

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Decide on a dominant colour and find a good way of working with it. This might be a novel idea, but how about asking your supporters for their ideas?

There are many exceptions to this general rule.

Brisbane and Newcastle, of course. Canberra’s done alright.

And going further back, Manly and Parramatta have had periods of both success and sartorial style.

Melbourne has somehow overcome its hideous purple garb to become a modern powerhouse.

On the flip-side, not even a series of classic jerseys could save the Gold Coast Giants/Seagulls. Neutral tones work on football jerseys but are no guarantees of success on the field.

What will the (Redcliffe) Dolphins do? Red and white is a good combination to start with. Alarm bells did start going off when it was announced they intent to add an additional colour.

Stick with neutrals, Dolphins. Try red and white with some black trim. Something along the lines of the very stylish Feyenoord Rotterdam football shirt.

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And for the sake of good taste, resist the insidious temptation of yellow.

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