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This week in history: Origins of 'diagonal' heritage jersey

Nineties fashion invokes memories of choker necklaces, baggy jeans, Dr. Martens boots and bomber jackets. But when you think of '90s rugby league fashion, you can't help but reflect on some of the most recognisable jerseys ever seen.

Many are now considered iconic, often bringing a sense of nostalgia to fans who witnessed the matches in which they were worn. The Brisbane Broncos' diamond jersey stood out with its geometric pattern that became synonymous with the team through that period. The short-lived Gold Coast Gladiators' jersey and South Sydney Rabbitohs' 1995 Sevens jersey are both fondly remembered for their bold designs.

However, it was the Cronulla Sharks' diagonal jersey that arguably took the cake. This design was striking in its simplicity and elegance. The diagonal stripe was not just a design choice; it symbolised the dynamic and forward-moving spirit of the team. It became a beloved symbol for fans and a representation of the club's identity at the time. The diagonal jersey is fondly remembered as one of the most stylish and beloved jerseys in NRL history.

The famous strip is the inspiration behind the 2024 heritage jersey, which the Sharks will wear against Wests Tigers on Friday night in their Round 19 clash at PointsBet Stadium – nearly 30 years to the day since its grand unveiling.

Mat Rogers dons the 2024 heritage jersey.
Mat Rogers dons the 2024 heritage jersey.

During this week in 1994, on July 13, the original jersey was presented to the wider rugby league community when it adorned the front cover of the Rugby League Week magazine. Author Matthew Gunn wrote: "As the game heads towards the year 2000 at a rate of knots, the Sharks bank on being there. To mark their sensational turnaround, they'll don a modern, new jersey. It's just part of the young, aggressive image they are trying to exude."

Earlier this year we caught up with the jersey's creator, renowned graphic designer John Gearman of Full Boar Graphic Design Studios, who shared with us its origins.

Andrew Ettingshausen unveils the diagonal jersey on the cover of Rugby League Week.
Andrew Ettingshausen unveils the diagonal jersey on the cover of Rugby League Week.

"This was actually the first official jersey I ever designed. (Former club president) Peter Gow wanted something different than what jersey suppliers were showing him, so he got us to do it," Gearman explained.

"He rang me up and I was up in Queensland for Origin. He said he needed something in a few days, so I basically drew a jersey shape and had the hotel do me 30 copies. I went and bought some coloured textas and drew a few designs for him. I think San Jose Sharks (American ice hockey team) were using that blue so they decided they just wanted something fresh for Cronulla.

"I always felt when I did a home jersey you needed to look at it as a clean skin (no logos or sponsors) and still have a rough guess what team it was. This design I felt passed that test."

The late Paul Green wearing the diagonal strip.
The late Paul Green wearing the diagonal strip.

The design elements of the San Jose 1994 ice hockey shirt are apparent in Gearman's Sharks jersey design, most notably the grey stripes which before this time had not featured on a Cronulla jersey.

As previously stated, in its first appearance, worn by Andrew Ettingshausen, the jersey was sky blue, however for the pre-season Sevens and Tooheys Challenge tournaments, the colour changed to a teal green, the exact shade of the San Jose Sharks jersey on which this design was based.

Speaking during the week, Gow recalled: "I must say, I really liked the teal, but maybe it was a bit ahead of its time, so we settled on the original colour as to not offend our valuable fans. I recall the jersey was just one of a number of brave choices at the time to try and make the club more dynamic, the other being the introduction of night football."

Fittingly, in 1995, when the club wore this jersey in their first full match, it was against the Sydney Tigers, formerly the Balmain Tigers. The Sharks won the match 18-10, a result the majority of the crowd at PointsBet Stadium would be more than happy to have replicated this weekend.


Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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