NRL teams, perhaps more than any rugby sides in the world, have a habit of seemingly wearing different jerseys every couple of weeks; it’s only round seven and a handful of teams have already sported three shirts, and we’ve still got the pink-tinged Women In League round to come!
However, it’s great to see a host of unique tops being unveiled for the annual ANZAC Round of fixtures, which this year marks 100 years since the Gallipoli Landings that are now commemorated by Aussies and Kiwis around the world every year on 25th April. The campaign grossly typified the horrendous waste of life and barbaric condition of warfare in World War I, which was keenly felt by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) in its first taste of battle, and became a defining moment in the history of the countries, and making 25 April such an important day in the collective conscience of people on both sides of the Tasman Sea. It’s always an important weekend for sporting teams, and this year’s wonderful array of special jerseys demonstrate the point.
The Roosters’ tribute to the ANZACs is a simple, tasteful variation on their home jersey. A silhouette of an ANZAC soldier, head bowed with the trademark slouch hat worn by the corps, rises out of the bottom left corner, with the white background seamlessly fading back into the dark blue of the jersey.
The other addition is a small branch of rosemary at the bottom. The plant is said to improve memory and as such has long been associated with remembrance, but has special significance for the ANZACs as it grows prominently on the Gallipoli peninsular, and as such is worn on Anzac Day. A nice addition of symbolism to a beautiful top.
St George Illawara Dragons
The concept picture of this jersey certainly looked nice enough, with the Dragons’ iconic but slightly boring red V jersey resplendent with a grey silhouette of three soldiers (two more on the back) walking through a ruined landscape, evoking the carnage of the Western Front, with the yellow ‘rising sun’ creating an evocative contrast. The latter is another important ANZAC symbol as it is the main feature of the Corps’ badge.
There’s another sprig of rosemary behind the NRL chest badge, while a Returned Services League badge takes a central position. It’s sad then that the jersey itself is slightly let down by the rising sun not being neither prominent or stark enough, resulting in the yellow appearing as almost a dull stain as opposed to the striking statement it should be.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles’ effort is a drastic departure from their usual attire and the pretty dire heritage top they were wearing in the defeat to the Bulldogs. The maroon chevron and trim are the only identifiably Manly motifs, with a dull gold being chosen as the primary colour, with a silhouette of slouch hat-wearing ANZAC soldier playing the Last Post on a bugle.
It’s far from perfect but it’s a bold statement, and few who know the history behind the Last Post will be failed to be moved by its image.
ISC has used the Knights’ colours to its advantage here, turning the jersey into an Australian flag, with the five white stars on a blue background, and rows of red stripes resembling the rising sun emblem mentioned earlier. This would be tribute enough but the imagery used on the jersey is incredibly moving. The top of the jersey is taken up by an image of the kind of steep, imposing hill that the ANZACs would have to taken under murderous fire during the initial Gallipoli landings and subsequent campaign, with the bottom showing a real-life picture of troops making just such an uphill assault.
Between the two stands a sketch of a statue of an Anzac soldier, head bowed and looking down on the men making the advance, creating a stirring, emotive image of remembrance. Frankly we’re amazed that a rugby shirt of all things can have such a dramatic effect. Bravo.
North Queensland Cowboys
Though we’re wary of the grey camouflage on show – no doubt a tribute to Aussie and Kiwi soldiers still serving 100 years on from Gallipoli – the Cowboys’ modified away shirt is another winner from ISC.
The blue shoulders and stripy centrepiece consisting of three white and one gold chevron make for one of our favourite regular jerseys and as such form a strong base, with the gold being used to create a portrait of an Anzac ‘digger’ (slang for a ANZAC soldier), leaning on his rifle, again bowed in respect and remembrance in his slouch hat. Not our favourite of the lot but the message is delivered with aplomb.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
One of the most drastic changes from their regular jerseys comes from South Sydney, whose owner Russell Crowe has just made a return to form on screen with the excellent moving drama about Gallipoli, The Water Diviner. The trademark red and green stripes of the bunnies are consigned to a single bar across the chest and split by a diagonal line, with the majority of the jersey given over to white.
It’s a top decision by ISC, as not only is it a nice jersey in its own right, but it gives the opportunity for yet another distinctive Anzac tribute to really stand out. The delicate, faded statue of a soldier holding an ensign is extremely atmospheric, with the simple yet stirring titles of the Australian and New Zealand anthems alongside adding another nice touch. Both poignant and pretty.
The Tigers are another team to put the rising sun to good effect here, as it begins in the orange top half of the jersey, going under the sponsorship band in the middle and shining onto the unmistakable image of two Anzac troops in a crouched uphill advance with bayonets fixed on rifles.
Not only do we like the fact that ISC have dropped the chevron here to create a distinctive jersey and give themselves more scope to play, as well as including magpies on the shoulders to acknowledge the Western Suburbs club that make up the joint venture with Balmain; the kind of pose the soldiers are in is synonymous with troops climbing out of their trenches and heading into no-man’s land, often to be cut down by enemy fire in the kind of futile waste of life that typified the early years of WWI. Another mournful, powerful image.
The Raiders’ ANZAC jersey takes the Green Machine in a distinctly more military direction, having a khaki-to-olive drab shade to it that instantly evokes memories of a soldier’s combat fatigues. Again the ANZAC soldier has pride of place on the front of the jersey, again leaning on his rifle, head bowed sporting the famous Slouch Hat – it’s a powerful image, and we wish that the main sponsor logo was quite so big that it obscured things.
Round the back of the jersey you notice two other touches that are less evident round the front, but are nonetheless really evocative and touching. The body of the jersey is in fact a map of the Gallipoli landing sites, and around the shoulders and sleeves the fingers of the rising sun motif burst out. It’s another sombre, well thought out and evocative jersey from ISC.
New Zealand Warriors
While the rest of the jerseys here offer sober subtlety, in typical Warriors fashion their ANZAC jersey is incredibly striking. Look closely at the detail however, and you’ll be stunned by what Canterbury have come up with. Taking on an appearance of a stained glass window, this collage of images that really hit home: crosses sticking up from the kind of rocky ground that soldiers made do for graves at Gallipoli; a soldier, medic, sailor and pilot saluting the flags of both countries; the kangaroo and kiwi bird – the symbols of both nations – protruding from the centre; and most inspiring of all, the Ode To Remembrance written beautifully in the centre.
If indeed it adorned a church, it would rightfully be hailed as a masterful piece of art. The jersey is finished off on the back with maori mangopare symbols – which represent never backing down no matter how big the fight – plus a cross, fern and poppy and the words ‘Lest We Forget 1915-2015’. Absolutely stunning.
There’s also an Panthers ANZAC shirt that we were unable to source appropriate image for that will be worn during the ANZAC round, but we doff our caps to all the clubs, ISC Canterbury and ASICS for this impressive, emotive showing on an important day for both countries.