The England Rugby League landscape will look rather different when the side start their Four Nations campaign in a fortnight. Stony-faced former Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has replaced Steve McNamara, with Sam Burgess his new captain, and on the jersey front, the departure of long-term backers Gillette gives things a very different look. But has the change done them good, as Sheryl Crow once sang? Let’s find out.
One thing that hasn’t changed this season is the name on the right breast, as BLK’s most high-profile tie-up in rugby league up north continues into a second year (though now done through the Aussie brand’s newly formed BLK Sport UK subsidiary), and in contrast to the classy but a little underwhelming first effort, this certainly has people talking.
Firstly, this new shirt is rather unexpected – the shirt revealed last season was originally marketed as having a two-year lifespan, but the sponsor change has obviously created a dilemma. Many brands would simply have slapped ‘Kingstone Press’ where ‘Gillette’ used to be on the old design, and maybe some fans who bought last year’s jersey might have preferred it that way, but it always feels a little bit of a cop out.
Instead, BLK has opted to create a bespoke new design, and one that we wholeheartedly approve of. Clearly someone at BLK read our review of last year’s shirt, as we stressed our desire to see a return of the prominent St George’s Cross future designs – and they clearly haven’t disappointed in that regard here.
Historically, all the best England shirts over the years have been those that have gone heavy with the cross as a prominent design feature. Puma’s effort for the 1995 World Cup set the ball rolling with an off centre effort and in recent years, ISC gave us the paintbrush effect.
There’s an obvious similarity between this shirt and the 2008 World Cup design, which had a similarly prominent cross in the chest. While that was criticised for going a bit too heavy on the red, we think this one feels much more balanced than that design. Without the heavy red side panels, the shirt still feels more white than read, which is handy given that the #wallofwhite slogan has been tonally sublimated into the jersey just above the red stripe on the rear.
A word of thanks to new sponsor Kingstone Press, too – while Gillette seemed determined to write a small essay of sponsor logos on last year’s shirt, the cider brand has opted to keep things much more minimal here. They’ve even allowed their logo to be stripped down and rendered in red, making it feel much more like a joined up design.
If we do have one criticism, however, it’s that this shirt is still using the 2015 template, with the small insert collar. While this makes it feel a little dated compared to the various new BLK jerseys we’ve seen on the union side this season, it does at least feature the best use of the partial arm cuffs we’ve seen – hiding a subtle St George’s Cross in them to lovely effect.
While we must stress there was nothing wrong with the 2015 release, it was a little plain, and didn’t really generate the levels of excitement that a new apparel partnership should. This however, is much more like it – a striking new design that’s an innovative and memorable take on the classic England look. It’s not quite perfection, but it’s pretty damn close.