Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has criticised Australian officials for voting to scrap traditional position-based squad numbers in favour of a new system that has not gone down well with some of rugby league’s biggest names.
All rugby league nations were reportedly sent a proposal regarding each squad’s numbers by organisers of the World Cup before voting on the move in 2019.
The new system means players will wear squad numbers rather than the usual one reflecting their position. Starting Kangaroos prop Tino Fa’asuamaleaui will wear No.18 against Fiji on Sunday, Murray Taulagi No.23 on the wing and Jeremiah Nanai No.22 in the backrow.
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Two years has passed since the system was approved and Meninga, who played 17 Tests for Australia, is still “disappointed” he wasn’t consulted about the new system.
“We signed off on it about two years ago, so I have no real comeback on it… We had no idea when it was signed off on,” Meninga said on SEN.
“We have 13 debutants on tour, so the jersey that they get to play in for the very first test is their tour number, Isaiah Yeo is number 24 mainly because of where he sits on the alphabet, he is the premier 13 of our competition.
“It takes away from the excitement of your debutants in particular, having their very first test match jersey and it’s a number that doesn’t resonate with anyone, because it’s not the position he plays in.”
The Australian footballers will now wear numbers based on when they made their international debut — the only exception being captain James Tedesco who will wear the No. 1 jersey.
Sea Eagles halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who made his Australian debut in 2011, will don the No. 2 jersey, while Ben Hunt will wear the No. 3.
Uncapped players in the Kangaroos squad were allocated the remaining numbers in alphabetical order — Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary will wear No. 14, while Panthers teammate Isaah Yeo will don No. 24.
Meninga believes the players will be upset they aren’t wearing their regular numbers when running out for their country.
“The supporters will be trying to understand who’s in the 24 jersey that’s playing in the middle,” Meninga said.
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“I’m just a little bit disappointed for the players from a positional point of view, because the first jersey they put on won’t be the one they play in.
“A lot of teams might pick a 1-17, but we’re not in a position to do that because we’ve got 24 great players and I’m not too sure who will make up the final 17, when we hopefully go into the Grand Final of a World Cup.”
Rugby league legend Matty Johns was also scathing of the system, pointing towards Latrell Mitchell wearing the No.8 as “wrong”.
“I cannot believe it, each game you should earn your jersey one through 17, the couple of sixes (test jerseys) I got, they’re the special ones because they’re the ones you earned,” Johns told SEN 1170.
“During the game, I think looking at Latrell (Mitchell) in the number eight jersey, for the organisers I think they’ve got it wrong, and 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.”
The move has not gone down with many in the rugby community with Daily Telegraph report Phil Rothfield labelling it a “disgrace” and Phil Gould also critical.