Australia coach Mal Meninga cut an animated figure when asked to explain the tournament favourites’ erratic-looking squad numbers for the World Cup.
All nations are wearing squad names and numbers for the first time in this competition, rather than the usual position-based matchday 1-17. Most squads are still expected to bear a decent enough resemblance to how they may line up on the field.
The Kangaroos though have gone one step further with their own system that bears no correlation at all to traditional positions or formations, with the result being a confusing array of numbers on their superstar shirts.
The Aussies will wear jerseys completely unreflective of their playing positions in a system based on when they made their international debut. This means the confusing sight of star half-back Daly Cherry-Evans wearing a winger’s number two shirt and prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard wearing six.
Meninga says the overall squad numbering system was approved two years ago; and he was none the wise when it was signed off. Speaking to Love Rugby League this week, the Roos legend was clearly still frustrated.
“My feeling is that tour numbers are great,” Meninga explained. “But if they are going to play every game then it should be 1-17.
“We have been given no chance to pick them in the positions that they play. So what we decided, is that if everyone has to wear touring numbers not their traditional numbers, then we will base it on the players who have played the most games.
“That is why Cherry-Evans is number two, and Benny Hunt is number three. We were forced to do that. I don’t know what our 1-17 is going to be in the World Cup final if we make it.”
Mal Meninga: We should never tamper with tradition
Meninga feels tournament officials have made a mistake in switching to squad numbers; and should have stuck to normal matchday numbers, without names, for each game of the competition.
“We should never tamper with tradition,” he added.
“Allow us to pick our team that runs on the field for Fiji as 1-17. Allow us to then pick our 1-17 for Scotland. We will have 13 debutants so they will not get the jersey they play in positionally which has not been well thought out at all.”