Middleton reflects on captains of yesteryear
Rugby league historian and statistician David Middleton has shed light on some of the players in contention to be named Captains' Captain at the Men of League Gala Dinner on July 19.
The Men of League Foundation and the Australian Kangaroos have combined to decide once and for all who has been the foremost captain of the green and golds over the past 108 years, with the award set to honour the player who best embodies the qualities required to lead their country.
The nominees for the Captains' Captain are Chris McKivat, Clive Churchill, Keith Barnes, Ian Walsh, Graeme Langlands, Arthur Beetson, Max Krilich, Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Brad Fittler, Darren Lockyer and Cameron Smith.
Most rugby league fans will be familiar with the contributions of the modern Kangaroos skippers, but it's the exploits of the leaders from yesteryear that mustn't be ignored.
Speaking on behalf of the experts that deliberated at Rugby League Central in June before casting their votes in a secret ballot, David Middleton, chairman of the independent panel, provided NRL.com with an insight into some of the game's pioneers in leadership.
"Some of the selections in the top 12 that we had had only been captain for a relatively short time," Middleton told NRL.com.
"Chris McKivat was an interesting one because he was captain from 1911-12 and was only there for a very short time, but his achievement in guiding Australia to the Ashes in England was phenomenal given Australia didn't repeat that for another 50 years.
"He came across when the Kangaroos and Wallabies matches were played at the end of 1909 and he was a previous Wallaby captain. He's the only individual to have captained both the Wallabies and the Kangaroos.
"He was a really influential player because he brought a whole lot of other players across to rugby league and helped sustain and grow the game, which is a unique achievement of his."
The man on the list with the second fewest games as captain, Arthur Beetson, also got a special mention from Middleton, but for different reasons.
The Team of the Century starting prop forward won six of the eight matches that he captained for the green and golds, but it was his influence off the field that earned him the most respect.
"It was the same with Arthur Beetson, who didn't captain Australia that many times, but the achievement of being the first Indigenous captain of any sporting code elevates his achievement," Middleton said.
"He was a natural leader who was hugely respected across the game and is still revered years after he passed away."
Middleton stressed that while overall success was a factor in the judgement process, it wasn't the sole criterion.
Using rugby league Immortal Clive Churchill as an example, Middleton highlighted how a man with an 11-16 record from his 27 games as captain came into calculations.
Despite losing a number of series against the French, Kiwis and the English, as well as tasting defeat in the 1954 World Cup, Middleton explained why Churchill's legacy as captain was viewed in such a positive light.
"Churchill played 37 Tests but was captain in 27 of them," the statistics guru said.
"There were some defeats along the way, but also two monumental victories in winning the Ashes in 1950 and in 1954.
"He was the first Australian captain to win two Ashes series and the 1950 win broke a 30-year drought.
"Vic Hey was coach of those sides so he deserves a lot of the credit – as do the players – but so does the captain.
"Churchill was there for a long period of the 1950's and to be captain for that long means you've got the respect of the rest of the playing group. That's a huge factor."
The general public is encouraged to visit menofleague.com to cast their vote. Voting is open until July 18 with the winner to be announced the following evening.