I’d recognise Petero Civoniceva in any jersey, with any number, from behind, in a crowd, during a rainstorm, at dusk ... you get the picture.
Even at high speed Billy 'The Kid' Slater can’t be confused with anyone else. David Williams’ excruciatingly bushy beard helps a lot. It’s not difficult when he is the lone Wolfman in the game. And I’ve been cheering on Anthony Minichiello for so long I forget he’s not in my family and wonder why he never turns up for Christmas lunch.
However, as memorable as many of them are, there are 288 first grade players in eight-game NRL rounds (including subs), and more than 400 players in the combined squads. How is a fan supposed to know who they all are?
This week as I sat in the stands watching the Chooks go down in unspectacular fashion to the pink Panthers, I was armed with a copy of Big League magazine, checking numbers against the team lists. Oh hello Etu Uaisele, good catch, too bad it was a forward pass.
Cameron Ciraldo, could you get any taller? Sandor Earl, weren’t you an underwear model? I got so lost in the names that when the ground announcer welcomed Isuzu Utes to the Roosters Club I thought we had a new player (a relation to Israel Folau?).
Please. Someone. Put their names on their jerseys. The numbers can be there too. And there is plenty of room for sponsor names. Have you see how big these blokes are? Even the little ones only look small next to the humungous ones.
Wait outside the sheds and you’ll get a whole new perspective on the genetic freaks of rugby league. Except for Matt Utai, who doesn’t need to be close to Jamal Idris to look 168 centimetres tall. He can play all right, but he’s almost the right height to do the weather on a morning show.
Yes, NRL teams need all the sponsorship money we can muster. But with players names blazoned across their backs, we’re more likely to consciously seek them out and look at the sponsor names below.
And there’s always the marketing value. Can you imagine how many Slater, Marshall, Hindmarsh, Merritt, and Barba jerseys we’d see walking the streets? If we even generated .01 per cent of the money soccer has made from Beckham 23 jerseys over the years, we’d be set for life. Becks' jersey money would be enough to buy the NRL two or three times over.
Jersey names would not just help the fans; they’d also help the sport. Many casual observers and reluctant sport-watching partners would be more involved and more informed about the games. Put a name to a face, and link it to an incredible try, tackle, or kick, and you’ve added a new dimension to that player’s next round for thousands of fans. Everybody wins.
If you don’t believe me, take it from the NBL, the NFL, the English Premier League, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League (that’s ice, not field), and too many more to mention. The largest, richest, most popular sporting organisations in the world have player names on their jerseys. Yes, we support the greatest game in the world but do we really know more about marketing than those financial behemoths?
And just while we’re talking uniform changes, please can we make those trashy cheerleader boots history? Cheerleaders love their footy and are passionate about getting behind the players and encouraging fans. They are made of stern stuff, sitting in freezing wind and rain in tiny outfits. Let’s get them out of the '80s streetwalker-style boots, and into some cute high-top sneakers.