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The all-time great rugby league fashions

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Roar Rookie
20th January, 2022
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With the off-season dragging on and on, I’m taking a whimsical walk down memory lane to consider the passing fashions of rugby league.

As the game has evolved over time, so to have the players accessories, and these are my favourite 13.

1. Jerseys
Since the millennium kicked over they have become so tight it’s now someone’s job in the dressing room to help the players squeeze into them. It’s hard to argue with the logic of some high-tech, quick-wicking material that leaves no room for defenders to clutch at, though. Shame for the fans who don’t have athletic bodies.

2. Tape around the ears
One of my favourites – how good and fearsome did a forward pack look in the 1980s with electric tape strapped tightly around their foreheads! I assume it was to prevent cauliflower ears when scrums were more rigorously contested. Pleasingly there are a few current playing rocking this vintage look.

3. Headgear
There are always a few on the field. It’s rarely fashionable, but some great players have donned the helmet over the years. My favourite headgear style was the type adorning the terrifying melons of Mark Carroll and Ron Gibbs. It might have been their playing style, but they managed to look more terrifying in it.

Kalyn Ponga sprints away from the Cowboys' Tom Dearden.

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

4. Mouthguards
This is a real bugbear of mine. It frustrates me so few current players play with a mouthguard. When the season starts, have a look at the close-ups, and I wager well less than half of the players in shot have a guard. I know they earn good money, but jeez, I’d do what I could to keep my teeth in my head.

5. Shoulder pads
It wasn’t just ladies fashion that dictated massive shoulder pads in the 1980s. Have a look at some images of Mark McGaw or even Peter Sterling from that era. Go back a few decades and we have a shoulder-padded Norm Provan embracing Arthur Summons that has become the most iconic image of the game. Maybe it has coincided with tight jumpers, but there a precious few shoulder pads in the current player’s wardrobe.

6. Padded bike pants
It seems like the shoulder pad industry needed to diversify in the early 1990s. Do you remember the St George Dragons team from around 1993? I have visions of them running around in these bright white padded bike pants under their shorts. I assume it was thought to protect from impact injuries.


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7. Vaseline on the knees
This must be in the hall of fame for stupid ideas. Honestly, who could see long-term value in covering your thighs in vaseline? The logic was that defenders would slide right off, but it must have got everywhere and on everyone. Maybe it was a case of if one team did it, the other had to follow suit. Who knows. I would have hated to catch an old leather ball in the wet with vas all over my hands.

8. The 1990 State of Origin ‘war paint’
I’m sure we borrowed this one from the US, but the sight of an 18-year-old Brad Fittler running onto the field under lights with black paint under his eyes has stayed with me. I think the logic was the black paint absorbed the glare from the lights. It sounds like wishful thinking to me, and it must have been, as I don’t recall it hanging around for many games.

9. Jockstraps
I hate to ponder why the humble jockstrap died out. Have rugby league players become less endowed over time such that the meat and potatoes no longer need to be strapped into a medieval codpiece? It was a regular piece of ruck antagonism in the 1980s for a tackled player to have one of his straps ripped from his jock.


10. Socks up or socks down?
I don’t think this debate will ever go away. Like headgear and ear tape, there will always be players who wear their socks down. We should not judge them but rather seek to understand their decisions.

11. GPS sports bra
You only occasionally see this one, because players can’t remove their own jumpers. But the sight of a player being assisted out of their jersey only to reveal what resembles a sports bra always gives me mild surprise. I believe it is so they can attach a GPS tracker to something. Surely the tracker can be sewn it into the jersey itself these days.

12. Wrist strap messaging
This is a recent phenomenon that I consider to be a form of analogue social media, an important medium for current players to get messages out to their to fans. I just wish they would learn to write it upside down so when they are on camera and point to it we can actually read it.

13. Liniment
Oh. liniment. I miss thee so. If there’s a more intoxicating smell in rugby league, I’d like to know what it is. My childhood memory of suburban grounds is so strong my eyes water.

That is my first 13 of rugby league fashions. I would love to hear what others think. Perhaps there are some worthy bench nominations.