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For & Against: Should players have designated numbers and surnames on jerseys?

Calls to have players' surnames and a number of their choosing on the back of jerseys have grown louder and the NRL has said it's happy to explore the idea but is it simply change for change's sake.

Merchandise sales may well rise but clubs could lose revenue from not being able to sell the prime spot above a player's number.

This week's For & Against weighs the benefits of a new-look jersey as opposed to sticking with the tried and true.

For editor Paul Suttor

Putting designated numbers and surnames on jerseys is a no-brainer.

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has declared he’s open to the idea and the sooner it happens, the better.

Defy Impossible: The try savers

The benefits from merchandise sales, building the profiles of players and all-round coolness will be immense.

Players have worn numbers based on their position for too long - only a few other sports in the world still have this archaic system, including rugby union so any chance for the NRL to differentiate/distance itself further from the 15-player code is worthwhile.

If this were to come into effect, there would be a short-term outcry from those who fear change but doing something because that’s the way it’s always been done is a perfect recipe for stagnation.

It will initially be hard for commentators and spectators to adjust to players on the field wearing designated numbers rather than ones based on their position but if it works in pretty much every other sport on the planet, why not in the Telstra Premiership?

How good is Magic Round

Everyone will get used to players wearing particular numbers and if their surnames are emblazoned across the top of the back of the jersey as well, then identification should not be an issue.

It will actually help fans who are too far away to read a surname on a jersey knowing that they can make out the number on the jersey and that number belongs to a particular player, not one that has been shuffled around between several players over the course of a season.

Numbers will become inextricably linked to the players who stay at the same club or the greats who shift teams and get first dibs in the pre-season, like Michael Jordan’s 23 in Chicago and, to a much lesser extent, at Washington. 

The NBA, NFL and Premier League and countless other high-profile leagues around the globe have this system - it’s time for the NRL to do likewise.

Potentially there could be a way to link the sales of specific jerseys to player salaries. This would encourage players to not just promote their individual brands, which appears to be very much in vogue these days, but to be role models.

Clubs can also honour long-serving players by retiring particular numbers - even though his Storm career pre-dates the potential introduction of this system, Cameron Smith made the No.9 jersey his own at the club over the best part of two decades so it’d be great to see Melbourne retire that number as a tribute.

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Other clubs could do likewise with their legends - perhaps the Eels and Knights could give the No.7 jersey the same treatment to save the next young halfback coming through the ranks the pressure of being labelled the next Peter Sterling or Andrew Johns, while of course also paying tribute to Sterlo and Joey.

The one downside would be that the space at the top of jerseys are prime real estate for sponsors but surely a surname can be squeezed alongside whichever commercial partner is paying for the privilege.

It might even make that spot more valuable as sales go through the roof if/when this system comes into place and fans can more readily identify with their favourite player by wearing an authentic replica jersey with their surname and number.

Episode 2 - Billy Slater and Alex Glenn

Against senior journalist Martin Lenehan

Why the sudden obsession with change?

We've gone from two referees to one, introduced the captain's challenge and the six-again rule, and this season we're re-starting the game with a play-the-ball instead of a scrums when the ball is kicked into touch or a player goes into touch.

Tick. Tick. Tick and tick for all those tweaks.

It's imperative that the NRL be open to change and continually explore ways to improve the product but the addition of names and random numbers on the back of jerseys won't make any meaningful difference for fans.

Spare a thought for any newcomers to the NRL trying to identify players if we change from the regulated numbering system where the fullback wears No.1, the halfback wears No.7 and the hooker's in No.9 and so on to an arbitrary array of numbers. The chance of Junior Paulo in jersey No.2, please.

Sticking with the time honoured system where each position has its designated number also avoids the inevitable argument between a bunch of players all wanting to wear No.23 because Michael Jordan and LeBron James wore it.

Defy impossible: The chase

Just because they do something in America doesn't mean we need to copy it.

There's only 10 players on the court in an NBA game so it's for fans to know who's who and identify the players but it'll be a whole lot tougher for fans at a rugby league game with 26 players running around.

Take a look at some footage of the 1997 Super League grand final between Cronulla and Brisbane and you'll see Shark Mat Rogers in jersey 45 and team-mate David Peachey in No.21 while Brisbane's Michael De Vere was in No.18 while others like Darren Lockyer and Steve Renouf had the number that matched their position.

It's confusing and added nothing to the spectacle.

As for names on the jersey, imagine the amount of revenue that clubs will lose when that prime piece of real estate above the number can't be sold to a sponsor.

Every sponsorship dollar is gold in a crowded sporting marketplace and most clubs aren't in a position to be sacrificing money for the sake of a cosmetic change that is simply not needed.

Should player names and year-long numbers appear on jerseys?

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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.


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