It’s a tough job, being captain of an AFL club. The things you once did as a good defender, an up and coming midfielder, or as a young man enjoying your break from the game are now scrutinised more harshly than at any other time in your career.

Your comments are taken as the voice of the club, and if you fail the test on the field, you have failed completely in the eyes of your supporters.

It is amazing to see players relinquish the captaincy and rebound into great form, with Travis Boak the most notable example of this in 2019. After handing back the keys to the Port Adelaide machine, Boak has embarked on a career-best year. It’s a real pity the rest of the team hasn’t followed his lead.

We’ve had young stars fail to fire, elder statesmen start to look their age, and evergreen leaders continue to do what they do.

The Mongrel has looked not just at the wins and losses but how these players have carried themselves this season and ranked them accordingly. Those who suffered serious injuries are given a pass – it’s hard to lead from the grandstand, after all. Those who are out there and are looking anything like leaders…

… well, some may not get a chance to rectify things next season.

Please remember it’s an opinion piece. Happy to agree/disagree/discuss. You can make your case on our socials.

 A+

SHANNON HURN

It was almost as though it was the kick in the pants he needed to raise his game. Already an All-Australian, Hurn’s non-selection as a leader in the AFL’s team of the year must have stung more than just a little. Imagine standing there and seeing Lance Franklin selected as All-Australian captain over you?

Again, no i won’t shut up about it! He gave the ultimate FU by LEADING his team to the flag while Lance Franklin and Patrick Dangerfield watched it on the TV.

Hurn is rock solid in defence and one of those players who you can rely on to do his job every week. You know what you’re gonna get with him, and I would love to see him return in great form in the next week or two to solidify his place in this season’s AA team, and take his rightful place as captain.

A

DAVID SWALLOW/JARROD WITTS

Co-captains who have really taken on the mantle of leadership at the Suns. Despite the way the team has performed, these blokes have thrown their bodies, hearts and souls into every contest, every week. Swallow started the season out brilliantly, dragging his Suns to wins with a battered and bruised body.  He has obviously taken the role seriously, and has not missed a game despite having half his body bandaged at times.

Witts has been a warrior as well, standing tall (pardon the pun) for the Suns, again not missing a game as he adopts the leadership role.

Often with regard to Gold Coast, you hear people talk about the lack of leadership. I am gathering they are talking about the next level down, because these two have been brilliant this season in the face of adversity.

A

PATRICK CRIPPS/SAM DOCHERTY

These guys remind me of a great tag team. Like the Hart Foundation, or Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson – look them up ffs.

I compare them to those teams because, this season at least, the pair have had to play very different roles. Doc has said all the right things (again… poor bugger), whilst Cripps continues to do the things on-field that would have to inspire teammates and make them better. They may not be tag team champs just yet, but they’re contenders and Vince McMahon likes a good team on the rise…

… until he turns one for the big payoff. Hope we don’t see Cripps taking out Doc’s knee just as he makes it back. It’d draw good money, though.

 

B+

PHIL DAVIS/CALLAN WARD

There are some players that just look like they’re ready to go to war – alone if need be, and that’s what I see when I watch Phil Davis. He’ll stand under a pack, run back with the flight, take on the big jobs and take it all in his stride. When he left Adelaide, I didn’t think he would grow into the leader he has.

And I would’ve loved to have seen Cal Ward lead this team on field this season. Alas, a buckled knee robbed us of the chance, as it did with Docherty. Ward would run through a brick wall to lay a shepherd for a young teammate, and it was wonderful to see how proud he was of his boys after their win over Port this past weekend.

These two are the perfect pair to lead the Giants, and seeing either one holding up a premiership cup… dare to dream, GWS fans.

B+ SCOTT PENDLEBURY

Rumours of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. Pendles looked like the downward spiral had commenced last season. With Sidebottom looking every bit the leader Pendles was, I was ready to see a change at the top of the Collingwood playing list. However, it turns out that Pendles was carrying an injury last season, and he has returned to the form we expect from him this season.

Always composed either on the field or in the media, Pendlebury has handled the role of leader of the “biggest club in Australia” (cue the grumpy Richmond fans) with aplomb, and continues to be the standard of excellence others in black and white aspire to duplicate.

B+

JOEL SELWOOD

That hurts, giving him a B+, but for once that sheer force of will he has had for years hasn’t seemed enough to propel him into the top bracket. Don’t get me wrong – I love Joel Selwood. As a Hawthorn supporter, it is close to blasphemy to write that, but I have been an admirer for years, and have watched him dismantle my team too often to ignore. I am not sure he can dismantle teams that way anymore.

I saw some glimpses of the old Joel Selwood against the Swans, and part of me thinks he may just be getting warmed up for September. I’d follow him into battle over every other captain on this list – my admiration of the way he goes about it… isn’t normal for a Hawthorn supporter.

B+  

JACK ZIEBELL

It was no coincidence that the North Melbourne revival in 2019 came when Jack Ziebell moved into a role he hadn’t played regularly in a year or so – in the midfield.

After averaging just 14.2 disposals over the first five games, Ziebell went onto the ball. North were screaming out for a hard-edge in there to aid Cunnington and the still-inconsistent Anderson, and with Ziebell you know you’re going to get 100% commitment to every contest.

He has been an absolute bull for the Roos, and his back-to-back 10+ tackle games in Rounds 12 and 13 demonstrated that he is a captain who leads by example.

B

DAYNE ZORKO

Misses out on the A-Grade due to still retaining a little bit of that child-like angst about him, but his maturation as a leader is an ongoing process, and with an old head in Luke Hodge to learn from, Zorko is starting to demonstrate the capacity to both handle the attention of opponents and the media.

At a time when Brisbane needed someone to step in and take the reins, Zorko did just that, and he is now riding a wave that is carrying the Lions to their first finals campaign since 2009. His efforts are the antithesis of those at the Melbourne Footy Club.

NAT FYFE

“Stop being such an individual…”

Remember when he told that story on the ‘Bob’ TV show? I probably would’ve liked it better had he told the story on an episode of Bob’s Burgers, but instead I also had to listen to Bob Murphy yapping away about how hip he is.

Anyway, Fyfe’s performance on-field cannot be faulted, but as a captain, he strikes me more as a guy who would like to read Vogue than watch game tape. I mentioned a couple of people I would follow into battle above. I’d be hard pressed to follow Fyfe into the pub even if he offered to shout.

B TRENT COTCHIN

I want separate Cotchin the person (A+) and Cotchin the player (much lower this season).

Cotchin won me over well and truly when vision emerged of him as the last to leave the Richmond change rooms, picking up after his teammates following a win. That was class.

But this season has been a bit of a nightmare for him. He’s managed just ten games and his numbers are at their lowest since 2010. It’s definitely not beyond him to have a big September and lead his team to glory, but the preparation has not been ideal.

EASTON WOOD

As understated as they come, Wood is another who leads by example and probably operates in the shadow of Marcus Bontempelli. I reckon if you asked casual AFL supporters who the captain of the Bulldogs was, they’d probably say Bont.

That said, Wood is a strong voice in the AFL community and his stance on gambling recently holds him in high regard at The Mongrel. His play is workmanlike and reliable – solid attributes for a leader.

B

JOSH KENNEDY/DANE RAMPE/LUKE PARKER

These guys get marked down a bit for hedging their bets and having half their team designated as captains. In terms of their play and application, I‘m not sure you can fault any. JPK has been a warrior for years and is one of three men to top 400 contested touches in a season. Parker is quietly going about having a close-to career-best season, and Rampe, despite his goal post climbing antics, is having a blinder.

Kennedy is much in the mould of Joel Selwood, often willing his team over the line or back into the contest via force of will. His amazing performance at Kardinia Park last season is still fresh in my mind in a forgettable personal season, but his work this season has re-established him as one of the best inside mids we’ve seen.

B-

DYSON HEPPELL

Copped a fair whack earlier in the season after sharing a joke and a smile with teammate David Myers after the latter’s failed shot at goal against the swans after the siren.

Apparently many Bomber fans didn’t find the situation so amusing.

He was thrust into this role at a point when the team was screaming out for leadership, and in his third year at the helm is starting to become a solid, if a little too hipster for my liking, captain.

B

JARRYN GEARY

Gusty. Travelled to China to play on the back of having half his leg ripped open in a pretty gruesome procedure and then broke his leg in the game against Port.

Many would’ve stayed home, given themselves another week or so to freshen up, and then hit the park again. But not Geary. If there was a chance he could play, he was going to play.

Truth be told, I could walk past Jarryn in the street and not recognise him, but in fairness, I reckon I could walk past two thirds of the AFL and do the same.

C

BEN STRATTON

As stated above, I’m a Hawthorn supporter. I was embarrassed by the pinching antics of our captain. At least when Hodge got reported it was for trying to kill someone – not for pinching them!

Stratton was a human wall on his own at times last season, but has failed to match the standards he set on-field. After Roughead, Hodge, Mitchell, and Crawford I expect more. Notice I left Vandenburg out?

C

TOM JONAS/OLLIE WINES

I feel for Tom Jonas. You get the impression that after Wines’ off-field accident in the pre-season, Jonas should have been awarded the captaincy singularly. Port broke with tradition – and they are proud of their traditions, damn it… I like that about them – to appoint co-captains.

Only one of them has been worth following.

Jonas is a stoic defender in the mould of Davis or Hurn, but Wines… Wines has been inconsistent. He’s played nine games and had minimal impact, going backward in most statistical categories. His lack of anything resembling leadership on-field drags the overall rating down.

Sorry Tom.

C

RORY SLOANE/TAYLOR WALKER

Rory Sloane would walk over hot coals (hopefully somewhat more successfully than Nigel Smart) to make physical contact with an opponent.

In several games I’ve watched this year, Tex seems as though he’d walk across hot coals to avoid it.

If it were just Sloane as captain, we’d be looking at a B. if it were just Tex, we’d be looking at a D. How can a bloke fall so far in terms of on-field leadership? He goes missing so often and far out I am frustrated with him. I stuck up for him early in the year as people were piling on, but the improvement in him has been minimal at best. With a career average of just over 13 touches per game, Tex has had 12 or lesson ten occasions this year.

It might be time at the conclusion of this season to hand the team over to Sloane as I reckon the captaincy is the only thing that’s saved his skin. The maligned Josh Jenkins has better numbers, but he felt the axe acutely. Maybe they aimed for the wrong man?

D

NATHAN JONES/JACK VINEY

The lowest rated of our captains, and here’s why. Jones was portrayed as this heroic figure in last year’s finals and the Dees fans rallied around him like a beacon – finally something good was going to happen for him. It was a time the captain needed to stand up. He didn’t. he had 18 touches in a forgettable performance and has carried that form into 2019, notching 25+ touches on two occasions. There is a reason he is yet to sign a deal for 2020.

Jack Viney has been barely any better despite receiving copious amounts of plaudits each week. His claim to fame this season has been getting flattened by Sydney Stack. He has had 30+ disposals once, and is having his worst statistical season since 2014.

With the Dees fall from grace so pronounced, much of the responsibility has to fall to their leadership. Their coach, their front office, and their captains. If you’re leading your team in the direction Melbourne has headed, what kind of leader are you?