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Captains call: Too many voices can lead to mixed messages

In the wake of Penrith’s decision to hand Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo a set of keys each for 2021, the question beckons as to whether two heads are better than one when it comes to captaincy or is the increasingly popular leadership group the way to go?

As the Panthers chase redemption this season, Cleary will bring the inspiration and Yeo the perspiration, and there’s every reason to think that can be a winning combination.

Just as 2018 and '19 premiers, Sydney Roosters, had Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend sharing the captaincy and setting the standards, so too Penrith will look to Cleary and Yeo to do the same as co-captains.

Having put his TikTok transgression well and truly in the rear-vision mirror, Cleary is ready for greater responsibility and the 23-year-old halfback has the perfect man to help him on that journey in Yeo.

It’s a model that worked brilliantly at North Queensland in 2015 when Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott led the Cowboys to a maiden premiership and one they’ll employ again in 2021 as Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan share the duties.

"Both men have a connection built over a long period of time within our system," new Cowboys coach Todd Payten said when the announcement was made in  December. "They know what success looks like and have the trust of all our players and staff to lead us moving forward."

NRL 2021 - 30 days to go

In the nation’s capital, club legend Jarrod Croker and respected Englishman Josh Hodgson joined forces in 2019 and drove the Green Machine all the way to the grand final.

In a message to the Raiders faithful ahead of that memorable 2019 campaign, Croker spelt out exactly why he and coach Ricky Stuart had invited Hodgson to step up to the plate.

"Having two captains gives us the chance to take the team to the next level and we know Josh is an experienced and passionate club man who will give his all to the role," Croker said.

Already 230 games into his career at that stage and having captained the club since 2015, Croker could undoubtedly have handled the job on his own but being able to bounce ideas off another senior player and share the commitments clearly worked for him.

Whether a club opts for co-captains or hands the reins to its most respected figure to do the job solo, it’s all about the faith and trust the players have in that leader or leaders.

For more than a decade, Melbourne have been the franchise by which all others are measured and Cameron Smith has been the gold standard in captains.

Magic Round returns

The five-time Dally M captain of the year has led the Storm to three premierships, the latest coming in what was almost certainly the final game of his illustrious career, the 2020 grand final.

Throw in five Origin series wins with Queensland and two World Cup triumphs as Australian skipper and you have a captaincy CV beyond compare.

Playing the role of Captain Solo also suits South Sydney’s Adam Reynolds, Parra’s Clint Gutherson, Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans and Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, all of whom carry the (c) beside their name with pride and passion.

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And that brings us to captaincy by committee, aka the leadership group, a model favoured by clubs blessed with so many great leaders that they can’t settle on one ... or clubs not willing to pin their faith in just one man lest he wilt under the pressure.

In the wake of Mitchell Pearce’s decision to stand down as skipper, the Knights have turned to Mitch Barnett, Kalyn Ponga, Daniel Saifiti, Blake Green and Jayden Brailey as their leaders.

Everybody’s heading to Magic Round

All good men and fine players in their own right but it remains to be seen whether a group chat can carry the same weight as a concise message from the main man.

At least the Knights have settled on their fab five which puts them well ahead of the Broncos and Dragons, who are working their way through some kind of audition process when the lead roles should have been well and truly handed out.

If ever a club needed clear direction it’s the 2020 wooden spooners, who began that ill-fated campaign with Alex Glenn at the helm but were forced to turn to Pat Carrigan and Brodie Croft when the veteran Kiwi was struck down by injury.

Kevin Walters has indicated several players are in the captaincy mix, including Anthony Milford and Glenn, but the good news for Broncos fans is the new coach is adamant there will be just one captain appointed as the club tries and restore pride at Red Hill.

The Dragons, meanwhile, had a perfectly good skipper at the helm in the highly regarded Cameron McInnes but the decision to cut him loose to join Cronulla in 2022 had supporters up in arms and the captaincy up in the air.

Fine clubman that he is, McInnes had made it clear before his ACL injury that he’d be happy to put any ill will aside and lead the club in 2021 but Griffin told the players not to worry about leadership groups or captaincy and "just rip into training and start to build something".

Sound advice but creating a culture and "building something" is much easier when there’s a respected and revered figure calling the shots and setting the tone as opposed to five voices or, as it stands at some clubs, no leadership voice.


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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