Alexander on Captains' Captain contenders
The 2016 Men of League Gala Dinner will be the hottest ticket in town on July 19 as the greatest Australian Kangaroos captain of all time will be announced following a rigorous selection process.
The Captains' Captain has seen 108 years' worth of skippers whittled down to 12 leading contenders, with the foremost candidate set to be honoured at the Men of League Foundation's premier event.
Panthers legend Greg Alexander is one of six men charged with the task of finding Australia's greatest ever captain (the public's vote will also count towards the final decision) and was at Rugby League Central on Wednesday afternoon to chat with NRL.com about some of the game's modern greats.
The fleet-footed playmaker served under Wally Lewis and Mal Meninga during his international representative career and was full praise for the two Queensland greats of the game.
Lewis became the first Australian to skipper more than 20 Kangaroos matches since Clive Churchill achieved the feat in the 1950s, enjoying an incredible record of 21 wins from the 24 matches he was in charge.
The Maroons legend was the first Australian captain to win three Ashes series (1984, 1986 and 1988) and also captained Australia to World Cup success in 1988.
While Alexander didn't feature in those sides, he recalled what it was like to be mentored by a future Immortal of the game during his formative years in international rugby league.
"On the 1986 tour and the 1989 tour to New Zealand, Wally was our captain and he just had that winning attitude and it rubbed off on the rest of the team," Alexander told NRL.com.
"We had some great players in those teams and on those tours, but 'Wal' stood out.
"When you think about it, there's no reason why what he did in Origin wasn't going to transfer to what he did for Australia, and that's the effect he had on games and on the team.
"He was a great captain because he was just so confident and always went out there to win. I think he was confident the team would win, and it showed with the way he played."
The same can be said about his successor, Mal Meninga, as the formidable Queenslander made an immediate mark as Australian captain on the 1990 Ashes tour.
Having lost the opener at Wembley Stadium, the Kangaroos simply had to win at Old Trafford to keep the series alive. With the game on the line at 10-all, up stepped Meninga to finish off a piercing break by Ricky Stuart to win the game; the Kangaroos went on to win the series with a 14-0 victory in the decider.
It was a series that would set the trend for Meninga as skipper with the barnstorming centre going on to win 20 of his 24 games in charge including three Ashes series triumphs and the 1992 World Cup.
"Mal in 1990 was a huge influence on that tour," Alexander recalled.
"He was a power of strength. We went within a whisker of giving it up and Mal had a big hand in us winning that Test at Old Trafford."
While 'Brandy' never played under Australia's next skipper, Alexander still has fond memories of former Panthers teammate Brad Fittler.
Fittler had arguably the toughest working conditions of any Australian captain with the sport going through troubled times during the Super League war.
Despite the split allegiances, Fittler still managed to lead Australia to success in consecutive World Cups in 1995 and 2000, only losing three Tests throughout his 25-game tenure.
"That era when he was captain, he burst onto the scene in the late '80s and was ready to captain Australia by 1995," Alexander said.
"It was a difficult period for the game but 'Freddy' was outstanding as Australian captain. He doesn't get a lot of recognition for just how tough he was. He was a tough player, Freddy, and he'd always lead from the front."
Alexander said it was a privilege to watch Darren Lockyer skipper his nation a record 38 times, telling NRL.com that his record "spoke for itself."
While he tasted defeat in the 2008 World Cup final, Lockyer achieved just about everything there was in the game and left the post as the most capped Kangaroo in history.
His retirement led to one of the smoothest transitions imaginable with Cameron Smith winning his first 15 Tests as Australian skipper.
With many good years still ahead, Alexander believes the Storm and Maroons superstar has the potential to go down as one of the all-time greats of the game.
"Then there's Cameron Smith," he said. "By the time he finishes he may well be the best skipper that Australia has ever seen. He's certainly been the best No.9 that Australia has ever seen. He's got a great record and it's still going."
The general public is encouraged to visit www.menofleague.com to cast their vote. Voting is open until July 18 with the winner to be announced the following evening.