NRL: Leader to be chosen by team

By Michael Burgess

There is unlikely to be a surprise when the Warriors choose their new skipper.

Current Warriors skipper Simon Mannering is the front-runner to be named in the role again next season. Photo / Getty Images
Current Warriors skipper Simon Mannering is the front-runner to be named in the role again next season. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors captain for the 2013 season will be decided by the players.

The prospective skipper for next season has been the subject of some intrigue since new coach Matt Elliott was appointed. He refused to make an immediate decision and insisted it would be decided throughout the pre-season. Now he says the players will choose.

At previous clubs Bradford, Canberra and Penrith, Elliott was a big proponent of a player-driven culture and that pattern looks likely to continue at the Warriors.

"I won't make the decision, the players will make the decision [towards] the back end of the pre-season," Elliott told the Herald on Sunday. "I won't be running out on the field with them, so it is important that they are involved in choosing their leader. [However], if I don't like who they choose, I am not going to allow that, because that is part of my job as well."

Elliott emphasised the importance of the next few months, as players will be pushed to their mental and physical limits through pre-season training.

"Pre-season training gives you the opportunity to stand up and lead - every day," says Elliott. "So whoever continues to stand up and lead will probably be the right person for the job."

Elliott also defended his reluctance to declare a captain now, saying it would be naive to make an early decision.

"People who think we should appoint a captain [now] are naive and I am scratching my head at them," says Elliott. "They might be scratching their head at me but I think that is ridiculous - two weeks into a pre-season and not everybody is here yet.

"Our international players [Simon Mannering, Elijah Taylor and Shaun Johnson] are not back yet and neither are our Melbourne players.

"Who knows, maybe Todd Lowrie is captain material. I don't know. But we are going to go through the full process and we haven't done that yet. It's like anything in life. If you are going to buy a house, you don't usually buy the first one you see. You make an informed decision and for the right reasons - not because everybody expects you to make it."

You can understand Elliott's rationale. Not only does he want to stamp his mark on the club, he is also keen to start fresh and make the disastrous 2012 season a distant memory.

The idea of a form of Captaincy Idol is tempting but there are few viable alternatives to incumbent Mannering.

Sam Rapira (129 NRL games) is held in high esteem at the club and has plenty of experience. But he may struggle with the many off-field demands of the role.

Jerome Ropati (138 games) is the longest-serving player at Mt Smart but would be an unlikely choice, given his continuing injury struggles over the past few seasons.

The Manu Vatuvei experiment of last year won't be repeated, while Taylor and Ben Henry both have leadership potential but are surely a few years away from the armband. Additionally, with the logjam in the back row next year, neither are guaranteed a spot in the starting 13.

Lowrie and Thomas Leuluai are experienced, respected footballers but it would be a huge call to make either of them captain in their first season at the club.

That has only been done twice before, with Kevin Campion and Steve Price inheriting the captaincy days after stepping off the plane - although, significantly, both appointments occurred after awful seasons the year before.

That leaves the only other contenders as Nathan Friend and Jacob Lillyman. Both appeal as good leaders, though Friend would not be a long-term choice and it is arguable that either would bring more to the table than Mannering.

Nelson's favourite league son has grown into the role since his surprise appointment in 2010 and is hugely respected by everyone within the Warriors' organisation. He has developed into one of the more adept communicators with referees, one of the most crucial aspects of the game. At 26, he has plenty of years left, as well as 165 NRL games behind him - more than any other current Warrior.

Mannering is the king of the 'one per centers' - the tough stuff unseen by fans and critics but valued most highly by team-mates and coaches. He also spends the vast majority of each game on the field and has a better injury record than most forwards.

He struggled last year to right a sinking ship - both from week to week and within games - but that was as much a reflection on the attitude of his team-mates and the lack of senior players in the side (for the majority of the season) as Mannering's leadership ability.

Elliott seems well aware of Mannering's attributes and admits - without saying directly - that the second rower is likely to have the armband come March 2013.

"I don't think we will see anything controversial or unexpected with the captaincy," says Elliott. "I'd probably faint if anybody was shocked at what we end up doing. There is already a really good leader in the organisation and he brings some great qualities.

"But we will go through a process to make sure we have done all we can to make the best decision and get the right leader. I just want to make sure that as a club, as a playing group and as a coaching staff that we are making an informed decision because it is a really important one."

- Herald on Sunday

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