With Australia being one of the top two teams in the world and the NRL being the flagship of Rugby League, there is always huge anticipation to see who has achieved the honour of wearing the famous ‘Green and Gold’.
After a truly superb NRL season in 2020 culminating in a heart-stopping Grand Final and with the Maroons pulling it out of the bag in the Origin Series against expectations, it’s thrown up a number of players for contention in all positions, including the captaincy.
Here are six possible candidates to take on the job.
Boyd Cordner – Captain of the Sydney Roosters/ Captain of the New South Wales Blues/ Captain of Australia
Boyd Cordner will be a familiar name to England fans; his try at the 2017 World Cup Final quashed hopes for England’s first World Cup win since 1972. Even though he is rumoured to be questioning his retirement due to ongoing issues with concussion, if he remains fit to play, Cordner could continue to be a great leader for the Kangaroos as he is their latest serving captain. However, this is no guarantee of selection for the role within a World Cup squad and this is why his name appears on this list. Cordner has never been skipper in a World Cup and there is so much more pressure on this than in any other denomination of the role. Moreover, the role has to go to someone who has shown their worth throughout the season and with Cordner only appearing thirteen times for the Roosters last year, it’s cutting it a bit fine. However, it cannot be argued with that he has played with distinction at the Roosters and has a plethora of successes in Grand Finals, World Club Challenges and at Origin level. His presence and standing seem to go well beyond his 28 years and everyone in both hemispheres wishes him a speedy recovery.
Daly Cherry-Evans – Captain of the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles/ Captain of Queensland Maroons
If I were of a betting disposition, I would say that DCE probably has the best chance of becoming the next Australian captain if Cordner is forced to retire. He has a huge amount of experience both at representing the Aussies on the world stage and at captaining the Maroons in State of Origin. This should be particularly noted as it was widely regarded by the Australian media that the Queensland team of the 2020 Origin was the worst ever. If the squads are looked at from that competition, New South Wales were brimming with big names whereas Queensland, not so much. However, they still managed to topple the Blues 2-1 and this is without doubt an indication of the leadership ability of the Sea Eagles favourite. To the doubters of Cherry-Evans and his eye-watering $1.3 million dollar a season paycheque, steering the Aussies to another World Cup victory would certainly offer a remedy.
James Tedesco – Fullback at the Sydney Roosters/Captain of the New South Wales Blues
Stranger things have happened ladies and gentlemen! A man who Australian Rugby League experts adore despite his somewhat quiet season last year, James Tedesco is the only contender on this list who is not a current captain in the NRL. The fullback from the Roosters has instead cut his leadership chops with the New South Wales Blues squad of last year, taking the place of the injured Boyd Cordner for games two and three. Whilst he did not get the series win, Tedesco still proved that he could manage a side at representative level. This is a formidable skill to possess when he is not at the head of a side week in week out. He also has one of the most glowing reputations in the sport; his name is always in contention for the Golden Boot award, even if he has been unsuccessful in securing it yet, but his stardom could be something that Australia could definitely use to their advantage in a World Cup. If he is picked as captain though, there will be more than a few raised eyebrows from the Rugby League world.
Nathan Cleary – Captain of the Penrith Panthers
The youngest player on this list, Nathan Cleary was one of the best performers by a mile in the 2020 NRL season but it was unfortunately marred. The Australian media dragged his name through the mud after the Panthers’ Grand Final loss to the Storm, effectively blaming him for the defeat. Yes, his performance in the final (including a very questionable kick at completely the wrong time) wasn’t his best, but to forego all of the truly exceptional moments and passages of play this man conducted throughout the rest of the season is utterly criminal! He was undoubtedly one of the best all round players of the 2020 competition and being named skipper for the Aussies could provide the catalyst to shut his doubters down – doubters that he shouldn’t have in the first place. He is one of the most driven and motivated players in the NRL at the moment and if he is not selected for the Australian captaincy this year, he will be at some point – guaranteed. Another important point to mention is that when Cleary won the Minor Premiership and led the Panthers out on the field in the Grand Final, he was just 22 years old. It is incredible what this man has achieved in such a short space of time and the mental capacity he has as a captain has already been proven. Even though his age may work against him for the role, his name will surely be in the mix.
Clint Gutherson – Captain of the Parramatta Eels
Clint Gutherson is affectionately known as ‘King Gutho’ by the ‘Parradise’ (fans of the Eels) and it is clear to see why. The start of the season was a slow burner for him, but when Mitchell Moses suffered an injury meaning he was out for a number of weeks, Gutherson stepped up to the mark and gave a better performance for the Eels for the rest of the season than Moses did. In fact, when Moses came back on the field, the Eels started to lose ground. (Hopefully that problem has been addressed by coach Brad Arthur for this season). Gutherson was the lynchpin in the success of the Eels last season and will continue to be so in the upcoming one. He is always one to lead by example, often making the break and pass to whoever is Parramatta’s resulting try scorer. As Australian captain, Gutherson would unquestionably be a success, which begs the question why he wasn’t made skipper of the Blues in the 2020 Origin after Cordner? Another question for another time maybe.
Adam Reynolds – Captain of the South Sydney Rabbitohs
A wildcard in this list undoubtedly, Adam Reynolds has never been selected to represent Australia at any level before. Given his performances last season with the ‘Bunnies’ this is nothing less than a surprise. A quiet tactician on the field, his play is relaxed and managed unlike some of the other contenders on this list, but no less skilful. What is striking about Reynolds is that he is never put under pressure and can kick a ball from anywhere to make it go exactly where it needs to be, invariably, resulting in a four pointer. This is obviously a skill that many players have, but with Reynolds there is something extra. It seems to be more finessed somehow and his accuracy speaks for itself. In addition to this, he is a hard runner and always picks out the best person to play the best move at the best time. He is a player who just gets the job done with no messing around and this is an infallible quality to have as captain which has been proven with the halfback’s first year in the role at Souths. To be asked to be captain for a club one year and then to be asked to be your country’s captain the next is a big step up, but Reynolds has the character and the attributes to be able to do this.