James Tedesco had never captained a team at any level before last November’s Origin series but he is now in contention to lead the Kangaroos at the World Cup following the shock retirement of Sydney Roosters, NSW and Australian team-mate Boyd Cordner.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga confirmed after Cordner announced his retirement on Monday following a series of head knocks that the forward had been poised to lead Australia to the World Cup if he had made a successful return this season.
Laurie Daley, who appointed Cordner to the NSW captaincy in 2017, and Brad Fittler – the man in charge of his first game with Sydney Roosters in 2009 and final match in last year’s Origin – joined Meninga in paying tribute to a player renowned for his courage, consistency and leadership.
“Everything he did was at a million miles per hour and he spent all of his energy on giving his all,” Daley said. “He was tough, he was brave and he would do things that others probably wouldn’t do.
“His game was built on effort and competing and leading. He would give you everything in every game and he expected that from everyone else.”
Fittler said: “He is the one all the other players love playing with. Everyone talks about leading by actions, and his game was the simplest but it was also the hardest because it was all about courage.
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“He was in the Australian team, or thereabouts, during his whole career.”
Cordner was the incumbent Kangaroos captain after taking over the role when Cameron Smith retired after the 2017 World Cup and Greg Inglis was forced to stand down on the eve of the 2018 Test against New Zealand following a drink-driving charge.
With Cordner’s retirement, Meninga is set to take a squad with little international inexperience to England at the end of the season as Queensland pair Dane Gagai and Valentine Holmes were the only players in last week’s opening Origin who played in the 2017 World Cup final.
As vice-captain in Australia’s last Test against Tonga at the end of the 2019 season, Daly Cherry-Evans is the natural successor to Cordner but the Maroons skipper faces a battle to retain his No.7 jersey from NSW halfback Nathan Cleary.
Tedesco is assured of the fullback role if he remains fit and could inherit the Australian captaincy after taking over from Cordner as skipper of the Roosters and Blues.
Given the standing of the position, the appointment of the next Kangaroos captain will be made by the ARL Commission after the World Cup squad is chosen.
However, Meninga and Australian selectors Darren Lockyer and Daley would be expected to make a recommendation.
“In my mind it is obviously a very honoured position to captain your country," Meninga said. “The obvious ones are DCE and Teddy, because they are the state captains.
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"Because we didn’t have any rep footy last year, Origin and form this year will be crucial to anyone’s position in the team.
"If Boyd did come back and if he was showing some outstanding form at the end of the year, and the Roosters were doing well, there is no reason why he couldn’t have forced himself back into the national side, being the incumbent captain.
“That’s not to be now and there has been a huge changeover [in the Test team] but there is no lack of quality players and quality leaders.
"There is an expectation that all players who put on the green-and-gold jersey become leaders in that team. Each leader has different attributes. Boyd was that leader who led by his actions and if he said something you could rely on him to do it.”
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Courageous, tough, smart and hugely respected
Cordner made his Kangaroos debut at the 2013 World Cup in England and played 20 Tests for Australia.
With the retirement of Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk after the 2017 World Cup, Cordner became the first New South Welshman to captain Australia since Danny Buderus in 2005.
“He gets it and he understands how important the international game is to rugby league,” Meninga said.
“He understands and believes in the green-and-gold jersey, and how the ultimate personal achievement you get in the game is to play for your country; that you reached the pinnacle of the game and you were considered the No.1 player in your position at that particular time.
“He led that and was one of our great players who ensured that sort of legacy piece remains.”
A personal memory is how Cordner and father Chris had travelled to Wembley on a packed London Underground train to experience walking to the stadium with fans for the 2013 World Cup clash with Fiji, in which he didn’t play.
“Boyd is one of the gentleman of the game and he will be sorely missed,” Meninga said. “He has had a marvellous career. He is courageous, he is tough, he is smart and he is hugely respected by all of his peers.
“He is an action man so what he says he means and what he says he follows through with actions. That is what you want in your leader – that follow me-type attitude. He has always been that type of player.”
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Fittler gave Cordner his first taste of NRL action in a pre-season match against Parramatta at Campbelltown Stadium in 2009 and the 16-year-old Taree schoolboy didn’t look out of place in his 22-minute stint.
Cordner had to wait another two years for his premiership debut under Brian Smith but Fittler never had any doubt he would make it and stuck by him as Blues captain when he took over the Origin job in 2018, despite calls for the back-rower to be axed from the NSW team.
Fittler was in charge of Cordner's final game in the opening match of last year's Origin series at Adelaide Oval, when he came from the field for a HIA and withdrew from the remaining two games.
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“That was my first phone call,” Fittler said. “Especially in my first year I needed some people who I trusted. I got to choose my staff and I pretty much got to choose the captain as well. Boyd is a good mate. We get on well.
“He has never looked out of place in any team, at any level. He was an integral part of the success we enjoyed in 2018-19 and he leaves a lasting legacy that every player should aspire to.
"He played the game very hard and at the end of the day I know we have a lot of flair and we applaud a lot of the great skill but it’s good to be able to sit back and be able to applaud how he plays because he has a lot of courage.”
Daley said Cordner had been the obvious successor to Gallen in 2017 because of the respect his team-mates had for him.
“They all admired and respected him,” Daley said. “He was quiet and really tough, he led with his actions and gradually developed as a leader in terms of using his voice and realising the influence he had on people.
“He led through his actions and once he got confident he started to let people know what they should be doing and driving the standards so he was very influential in that group.
“He has done it all and he should be very proud. Certainly, in the last 20 years there wouldn’t be many tougher players than Boyd.”
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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.