About a fortnight ago, referee Chris James lambasted Eels forward Matt Ryan for repeated ruck indiscretions. It was a peculiar running battle between the two, being at this early time of the year. The camera had barely finished rolling on Jessica Mauboy’s new NRL 60-second showpiece and already players were on high alert.
As always, the whistleblower won out and Ryan was banished to the sin bin. Referees 1, Players 0.
Ryan’s team-mate, Tim Mannah, watched on in astonishment before it suddenly clicked – someone had to put this bloke in pink in his place and the new Eels club captain thought now was the time to do his job.
But the conversation was over before it started. Mannah was shooed away like an annoying fly and Jarryd Hayne was called in.
Talk about being put in your place.
“Technically, I suppose he was doing the right thing,” Mannah tells Big League in his familiar confines of Guildford West Primary School, where words from the local product are treated like gospel. Guess no-one cared to tell Daniel Anderson’s new pupils.
“I was going to tell the refs that I’m one of the captains too, but I said to myself, ‘No, I’ll let Haynsey handle it.’ I really should leave it to them guys,” Mannah continues, “but I definitely got brushed.”
Herein defines Ricky Stuart’s new leadership model at one of the proudest clubs in the NRL. It says a lot when the rugby league mastermind needed psychological profiling of every squad member to unlock the mystery that is the Parramatta Eels. Jarryd Hayne? Maybe not quite mature enough. Reni Maitua? Perhaps not quite Parramatta enough.
And Mannah? He’s definitely Parramatta and he’s definitely mature, something that was there for all to see when he publicly dealt with the passing of brother Jon to Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in January. Plus the former Guildford Owl is the only cleanskin of the three new captains. Scandals just don’t agree with him. He’s never stepped out of place. Never been in trouble with the refs. And we bet he’s never even been in as much as a schoolyard scuffle.
Mannah has always been about manners.
“This role suits my personality well,” he says. “As a front-rower, I can leave those guys to worry about the team on the field and I can just worry about doing my job the best I can.
“Off the field, I can represent the team, whether that’s in the media or the corporate side of things. But I need to make sure I grow as a person as well. It’s character building for me.”
And everyone else for that matter because the new skipper of this restored ship that has sailed into the Parramatta River says everyone is a leader at the Eels, which in Ricky-speak translates to everyone being accountable for their actions.
“It doesn’t matter who got the captaincy – there was always going to be a pack of leaders to fill the role. Even though there’s three of us, any six or seven could lead the way at any time,” he says.
“This is culture building. I don’t think it matters who the captain was going to be, as long as everyone on this team leads by example.”
For Stuart, Mannah was not only one of the more popular choices – it was the logical one. After all, the four-time New South Wales prop has been doing it since he was eight.
“I captained my Guildford team, NSW Schoolboys, Aussie Schoolboys, Junior Kangaroos, Toyota Cup… pretty much every team I’ve played in,” he says.
“For Jarryd, this is what’s best for the team. In a few years, everyone will look back and tell that this time in his life is what really made him as a person and as a player. We’ve only seen a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing. This year, I think we’re going to see not just ‘Haynsey’ as an individual, but Haynesy as a team player. Hopefully a premiership-winning player.
“And as for Reni, he’s been on both sides of the fence in terms of growing up and I think he’s definitely matured into one of the great leaders in the game. He’s going to be great for us in terms of what we need in a leader.”
Mannah isn’t looking to break new ground in how he leads the side. He aims to leave the same legacy as the bloke who first led him out of the tunnel.
“The best thing about Nathan Cayless was the example he set,” Mannah says. “He was such a controlled leader. Obviously he had so many years of experience but he always seemed so sure and confident of who he was.
“He put a lot of time and effort into the younger boys like myself. His biggest legacy was that it wasn’t all about him. It was about putting into generations to come.
“For myself, I want to leave a legacy where the guys after me will be able to learn from me being an example to them. That’s the best legacy you can leave behind you as captain.”