It’s all in the numbers: Australia’s unique jersey decision creates debate

Matty Johns has criticised Australia’s decision to move away from players being assigned jersey numbers based on their position on the field, in favour of implementing an idea from Michael Hagan which will see players allocated a number based on when they made their debut for the Kangaroos.

“I cannot believe it, each game you should earn your jersey one through 17,” Johns said on SEN’s The Run Home.

‘You shouldn’t tamper’ with traditional jerseys and numbers

Under Hagan’s method, James Tedesco will automatically be given the No.1 jersey due to him being named captain for the World Cup, while the rest of the jersey numbers will be assigned from most experienced to least experienced in the 24-man squad.  

Daly Cherry-Evans is Australia’s most experienced player having debuted in 2011 and would have had the No.1 jersey, if he wasn’t relieved of his captain’s duties by Mal Meninga prior to the tournament.

Less than half the team have actually made an appearance for the Kangaroos before, with Cameron Murray the latest to debut. The Souths’ skipper will wear the No.11 jersey, having played his sole Test against Tonga in 2019.

From No.12 onwards, the jersey numbers will be handed out to players in alphabetical order. This will see Matt Burton in the No.12, Nathan Cleary in No.14 and his Penrith teammate Isaah Yeo in No.24.

Meanwhile, in between Tedesco and Murray will bring all kinds of weird and wonderful jersey numbers for the players. Jake Trbojevic will suit up in the No.5, Reagan Campbell-Gillard will be in six and Latrell Mitchell will be at eight.

“During the game, I think looking at Latrell in the number eight jersey, for the organisers, I think they’ve got it wrong,” Johns said.

“Australia, I think we’ve got it wrong. I honestly hate it.

“The traditional jerseys and numbers are part of the history of the sport, and you shouldn’t tamper with it.”

Which jersey number will each Kangaroos’ player have? 

  1. James Tedesco
  2. Daly Cherry-Evans
  3. Ben Hunt
  4. Valentine Holmes
  5. Jake Trbojevic
  6. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
  7. Cameron Munster
  8. Latrell Mitchell
  9. Josh Addo-Carr
  10. Jack Wighton
  11. Cameron Murray
  12. Matt Burton
  13. Pat Carrigan
  14. Nathan Cleary
  15. Lindsay Collins
  16. Reuben Cotter
  17. Angus Crichton
  18. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
  19. Campbell Graham
  20. Harry Grant
  21. Liam Martin
  22. Jeremiah Nanai
  23. Murray Taulagi
  24. Isaah Yeo

Why have the Kangaroos changed their jersey numbers? 

The Kangaroos’ approach to the numbers on the back of the jersey has had traditionalists, like Johns, up in arms. Yet The Sydney Morning Herald’s Christian Nicolussi defended the concept when appearing on SEN.

“I actually don’t mind the idea,” he said.

“I think it mirrors what happens overseas in the major football codes. It also happens in the Super League, where players get their permanent numbers for the year.

“[The Kangaroos squad] were laughing about it the other day…Daly Cherry-Evans, it’ll be the first time in his life he has ever worn the number two.”

The novel approach to the jersey changes have been implemented due to the organisers of the World Cup ruling that each player must have a permanent jersey number throughout the duration of the tournament.

“I know some other nations will opt for the 1-17 option and take a stab at what they think their likely line-up is going to be,” Nicolussi said.

“But the way the Australians have done it, I actually don’t mind it.”

Perhaps the reasoning behind refusing to basically name the starting side before the tournament, may be to promote the idea that everyone in the squad has a chance of making the starting side. 

Meninga has escaped from the prospect of having to declare either DCE or Cleary as his preferred halfback, while spots in the forwards have also seemingly been left to decide with this impartial jersey allocation.

“I know it’s going to look a bit weird. I can only imagine it’s going to be a commentator’s nightmare trying to call players out of position, but it’s the way it’s going to work.

“The cup organisers have got this rule in place this year and likely in France [Rugby League World Cup in 2025]. So, there’s no reason not to go with it again,” Nicolussi said.

However, while the concept appears clunky, it may point to the future whereby players will be able to select their own jersey number and keep it for a prolonged period of their career as a type of personal branding.   

In this case, the marketability of their jersey will come to the fore, in much the same way as is customary in other sports around the world.

Although for now, the players have been assigned their jerseys and will just have to make do with what they’ve been given.

“Listen, I think all of the players are chuffed just to be over there,” Nicolussi reasoned.

“If you put the number 146 on their back, they really couldn’t care less.”

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