Another incredibly important Eye Test investigation – a dive into NRL player sock heights

Magic Round for 2022 is over and people in rugby league are staying on brand by doing the one thing they know how do to – fix something that isn’t broken. There’s been suggestions of moving Magic Round out of Brisbane (dumb), rotating it’s location (also dumb) or having multiple Magic Rounds, which is such a galaxy brain rugby league idea that I’m surprised it hasn’t already been decided upon. Find something unique and run it often enough that it’s no longe special.

But I’m not here to talk about that this week. I’m going to tackle an incredibly important issue in rugby league – player sock heights.

As a young lad I distinctly remember watching a game with my dad and hearing him repeatedly complain about one player who had his socks around his ankles. He’d mutter things like “They should call a penalty on him until he pulls them up” or “It should be against the rules” during the game. I want to say the player was Gary Freeman, but the timing doesn’t work even if his propensity to annoy people does.

Regardless, I always found it a strange thing to complain about. My dad’s birth year firmly places him as a Baby Boomer even if he doesn’t display typical Boomer tendencies. Why did it matter if a player had his socks up or down? And why was a penatly the required punishment? Maybe he could get some work with the NFL or UCI given how pedantic they are about uniform violations.

It’s a conversation that has always stuck in my head and with that memory in the back of my mind it’s not hard to notice the trend of lower sock heights becoming incresingly prevalent in the NRL over the past few seasons. It has also been said that how you wear your socks can say a lot about your personality as well. Which has led me down the rabbit hole of tracking the sock height of every NRL player at Magic Round.

In preparing for this article, I decided to check the rules of the game and see if there was anything about a uniform code. All I could find was this mention in part (b) of Section 4. The Players and Players’ Equipment:

(b) A player’s normal gear shall consist of a numbered jersey of distinctive colour and/or pattern, a pair of shorts, socks of distinctive colour and/or pattern and studded boots or shoes.

There’s no rules or regulations about sock height or how a uniform should be worn in the NRL rules, and I couldn’t find anything in the NSWRL junior rules either. Although apparently whatever Mitch Moses was thinking when this iconic NRL moment happened in March 2017 was a bridge too far.

What on earth is happening with Mitchell Moses' socks?

I guess those TruSox are that good that you’d be happy enough wearing mutilated socks with them. ISC must have been thrilled. Thankfully we’ve moved on from this issue as players are doing it much more discreetly.

Why did I choose sock heights for a deep dive? Eveyrone is going to have their take on Magic Round and I wanted to do something different. Last season I spent one of the middle rounds of the season tracking and analysing which boots players were wearing and the colours of said boots. This season I wanted to change it up and look at something equally as important – and sock heights was it.

I could have spent another round looking at boot brand and colours again, but the madness of trying to identify the brand of players with all black boots was not something I wanted to revisit.

I do have on update that didn’t make it into last year’s piece, although I had mentioned it on Twitter previously. The Warriors’ Eliesa Katoa is still the only player in the NRL that I’ve seen wearing Under Armor boots. I’d noticed this late last season and he was still wearing them at Magic Round.

As for the methodology for the sock height analysis, it was relatively simple. I checked the sock height of every player from every game over Round 10 at the point they entered the field and tagged them as either “High” (full height above the knee) or “Low”.

I’d originally wanted to categories sock height as Low/Mid/High, but the time required to determine what was high or low was too much. I ended up just splitting into two categories, “High” for traditional sock height and “Low” for everything below the medial head of the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle.

Using the point of running onto the field wasn’t originally in my plans. I was using some of the pre-game footage on Fox League to spot players in the dressing room to work out what height their socks were. That was until I saw Matt Frawley from the Raiders in the dressing room with his socks at ankle length, followed by him running onto the field with them at knee height. Thankfully I’d only gathered a few players at this time and the different approach didn’t require any mass changes.

So, what were the findings of this hard hitting analysis? Here’s the high level breakdown.

57% of the 275 players I tracked at Magic Round had a Low sock height (remembering this is below the calf), meaning only 43% of them had them at full height. This is a number I will not be mentioning to my old man the next time I see him. From some of my early workings that 57% would be split 40/60 by Low/Mid but as mentioned above it’s a very subjective view of what a low and mid sock is. Regardless, low socks are very much the trend at the moment in the NRL.

That’s the overall breakdown, next we’re going to split it into teams. Are there teams that are more traditional with a higher proportion of players with their socks up? Or does peer pressure set in, and players want to wear them down like the rest of the team?

There are only five teams with more than 50% of players with high socks – Canberra (53%), Canterbury (65%, Cronulla (53%), North Queensland (59%) and South Sydney (59%). You could call these the more traditional teams, having a higher proportion of players with knee high socks. On the flip side, three teams – Newcastle, Manly and the Gold Coast – had over 70% of their players (12 out of 17) wearing low socks. The Knights had the lowest average age of a team in Round 10, at just 24.8 years, which might be one of the reasons for their number being so high. Manly were the fourth oldest (26.18) although high sock wearing 31 year old Kieran Foran is dragging that average up.

Now we’ve established the trend with players and teams, let’s look at positions. Are certainly positions more likely to have lower sock heights than2 others?

The spread within position passes what I was expecting with the eye test. Generally, the faster players on the edge of the field were wearing their socks lower, with Wingers and Centres at 72% and 84% respectively.

The lowest was halfback at just 19%, the only position with less than 40% of players wearing low socks. That amounts to three halfbacks with low socks, and the culprits were Lachlan Ilias, Mitchell Moses and Jackson Hastings (who we will have more on later).

Finally, I wanted to check if it was a generational issue. Are younger players more likely to wear their socks lower than their older teammates? Keep in mind this the age of the player when the game is played,

This one also (somewhat) passes the eye test, as younger players tend to have a higher number of players with lower sock heights. Ages 22 (77%) and 24 (81%) had very high proportions of players with low socks, although ages 21 and 23 were more even in the 45-55 range. There was a clear drop off as players aged though, as all ages other than 29 had no more than 60% of players with low socks. It does seem to be somewhat of a generational trend, which is what you would have expected before starting this analysis, with 60% of 30+ aged players wearing high socks.

There were also a few oddities I picked up from this process. There were the usual suspects like Luciano Leilua and Jason Taumalolo wearing low socks and full calf compression which gives the illusion of wearing high socks.

The biggest one that stood out to me was Jackson Hastings. At first glance I had him tagged as “High” for sock height until I saw him lining up a conversion attempt.

It was then I discovered he had full calf compression on with socks at his ankles, plus the added twist of two strips of tape around them. I’ll leave this for rugby league trainspotter and friend of the site Mike Meehall Wood to investigate further. Maybe it’s something he picked up in England?

Sione Katoa was another whose initial view was deceptive. Again, it looked as if he had knee high black socks on, like Hastings or some of his fellow Sharks.

However, when he went down late in the game, we got a closer look at his lower leg, and it wasn’t high socks as I’d initially though. It appears that like Hastings he was wearing a high compression sleeve with TruSox or similar sewn and/or taped into the bottom of them. I’ll also note that Katoa is wearing Concave boots, who seem to be increasing their market share of NRL players.

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