Leadership in the AFL – has it ever been more important?

In an age where it’s never been easier for players to step outside the lines of what is acceptable and what is not, strong role models at clubs are imperative to team success. Just look at those at the top of the tree right now – Trent Cotchin is the conscience of the Richmond Football Club. Though others around him may step out of line, he is the standard by which they’re judged. Ditto at Geelong, where Joel Selwood has set a standard that few can match on-field. Fearless and inspirational, he is a leader his teammates cannot help but follow.

But who is next to step into the role of leader at the Tigers and Cats? And who is next to step into the role at your club?

The Mongrel takes a look at the likely candidates at each team and the time frames for them to assume the reins. Keep in mind, these are selections based on what I’ve seen – it’s fine to have a different opinion. All good?

 

ADELAIDE

CURRENT – RORY SLOANE

LIKELY CANDIDATE – TOM DOEDEE

It’s not often there is a clear heir apparent at a club, especially at such a young age and with a year out of the game due to a knee injury behind him, but Tom Doedee is just such a player for the Crows.

He started as the fill in for the departed Jake Lever and has come back to give Adelaide some welcome relief across half back. With 100% commitment to the Crows’ cause, Doedee is one of the most obvious choices to slot into the leadership role at Adelaide after the 30 year old Rory Sloane passes the torch in the next couple of seasons.

TIMEFRAME – Following 2022 season

 

BRISBANE

CURRENT – DAYNE ZORKO

LIKELY CANDIDATE – HARRIS ANDREWS

I’ll admit – I was doing some research for another article I was writing and penning the words “the 31 year old Zorko” made me go back and check my numbers. Where does the time go?

Anyway, what this does is it puts the captaincy of this Brisbane team on the agenda over the next couple of seasons. Don’t get me wrong – I think Zorko has plenty left to give, but as he enters the twilight of his career, a successor should be found.

And if we’re looking for a man to follow, the commitment to the cause of their All-Australian full back cannot be discounted.

Harris Andrews is the key to the Brisbane defence and the best spoiler in the league over the last few years. You’d think Zorko has maybe one more season after 2021 as the leader of the Lions before handing it over, at the most.

The obvious contender for this title is Lachie Neale, who at 27 has a number of good years in him, and was one of the instrumental factors in the turnaround of the Lions over the past couple of seasons.

TIMEFRAME – Following 2022 season, at the longest

 

CARLTON

CURRENT – PATRICK CRIPPS/SAM DOCHERTY

LIKELY CANDIDATES – JACOB WEITERING/SAM WALSH

Cripps is 25 and Docherty is 27. Both have plenty of gas left in the tank, but if you listen to social media pundits, Cripps is going back to Western Australia and so on… the sky is falling, the sky is falling!

But back to reality, this duo have 4-5 years left as co-captains, but I feel as though Doc will step aside at some point and hand the team over to Cripps exclusively. So it will be more like a 6-7 year window before the role becomes available at Carlton.

What that does is give Sam Walsh long enough to develop his leadership skills and grow into a role at the club that positions him as the next captain. Having just turned 20, a 26/27 year old Walsh would be primed for the role.

That said, if the Cripps/Doc pairing runs its race for whatever reason prior to that time, Jacob Weitering, aged 23 at the moment, would be a very good choice. Leading through actions, Weitering’s no nonsense approach could see him follow in the line of excellent AFL defenders who have assumed the captaincy of their club.

TIMEFRAME – 2025-26

 

COLLINGWOOD

CURRENT – SCOTT PENDLEBURY

LIKELY CANDIDATE – TAYLOR ADAMS

Pendles has been amazing for the Pies. Still playing good footy, he looks as though he could go on forever.

But he can’t, and at 33, the time for Pendlebury to step aside draws near. At one point I thought Steele Sidebottom would make a nice successor, but that ship seems to have sailed. Now, Taylor Adams looks most likely.

At 27, Adams has the maturity to step into the role and follow the man who could be known as the Pies greatest captain ever when all is said and done. Adams brings a manic work ethic and relentless pursuit of the footy to the role, but he would have massive shoes to fill.

TIMEFRAME – Following 2021 season

 

ESSENDON

CURRENT – DYSON HEPPELL

LIKELY CANDIDATE – ANDREW MCGRATH

Heppell struggled to stay on the park in 2019, a foot injury proving to be too much for the 28 year old. Now, entering his fifth year as captain, he is one of those players I feel will make an announcement at some stage that he’s “stepping down to concentrate on playing my best football”.

Not sure if you guys see him in that kind of light, but it is the nicest possible way of stepping away from the captaincy, and I can see Heppell heading that way. He is a nice bloke, after all. He has also been a pillar for this club during a very trying time and his contributions to Essendon should never be devalued.

But who would be ready to assume leadership of the Bombers and lead them out of this period of… nothingness if Heppell decided he’d had enough?

Lead candidate would be Andy McGrath. The former number one overall pick is 22 and has started to make real strides in terms of what he offers the Bombers on-field. Is he a little too young? Even if Heppell steps down at the end of the season, a 23 year old in the role would be a big ask.

Others who could realistically step into the role would be Zach Merrett, who is now 25 and… look, that’s about it in the short term. Either Heppell hangs on for another year until McGrath is ready, or Merrett steps in.

TIMEFRAME – Following 2022 season

 

FREMANTLE

CURRENT – NAT FYFE

LIKELY CANDIDATE – ANDREW BRAYSHAW

With Brayshaw’s re-signing with Fremantle came a sigh of relief. The Dockers had three players they would have been desperate to secure for the long term. They’ve got two of them, with Brayshaw and Caleb Serong both committing to the club. Adam Cerra remains the final piece to the puzzle.

Freo have one of the best players of his generation at the helm currently, but at 29, you’d think at some stage in the next two to three seasons, Nat Fyfe may hand over the captaincy to one of the budding stars of the team.

Brayshaw has been excellent for Freo, developing his game and enhancing his role in the team with every season. With 56 games under his belt, Freo have done a great job nurturing him and he could reward them by becoming one of the better leaders in the game.

Let’s say that Fyfe captains two more seasons. That’ll make Brayshaw 23 at the commencement of the 2023 season. Maybe, if he does not seem ready, a then 27 year old Luke Ryan could step into the role for a couple of seasons?

TIMEFRAME – 2022-23

 

GEELONG

CURRENT – JOEL SELWOOD

LIKELY CANDIDATES – CAM GUTHRIE/JED BEWS/TOM STEWART/MARK O’CONNOR

There is no clear standout amongst the Cats’ mid-age players, which could lead to someone in their late twenties taking on the role for a couple of seasons while some of the young blokes develop their leadership skills.

I’ve highlighted Guthrie, Stewart and Bews here – all are hard working talents that put team before their own personal glory, but it could also be someone like Mark Blicavs that takes the reins once Selwood gallops off into retirement – I’d keep Joel in the role til he hangs up the boots, personally. He has been an absolute warrior and implores his teammates onto bigger and better efforts.

The other who could surprise is Mark O’Connor, whose leadership qualities have been talked up by those from the Cattery over the last 12 months.

TIMEFRAME – End of 2022 season. Maybe sooner

 

GOLD COAST

CURRENT – JARROD WITTS/DAVID SWALLOW

LIKELY CANDIDATE – TOUK MILLER

Witts and Swallow were the right choices at the time for the Suns, but there was a definite push for Touk Miller to assume the role of captaincy at the Suns at a time when they were struggling for leadership. Steven May and Tom Lynch had both wandered out of the club, leaving a void of established stars to lead the team. Miller was quite vocal about Lynch, in particular.

Luckily, Witts and Swallow were ready for the respnsibility. Both are 28 years old, so you’d think they have three years left in the role, either together or one as a standalone version. That will make Miller around 27 years old when the role becomes available next.

Although I expect a push for Matt Rowell to be anointed as the next leader, a couple of years of Miller at the helm would be a fantastic reward for such an underrated and unsung Gold Coast star.

TIMEFRAME – Following 2023 season

 

GWS

CURRENT – STEPHEN CONIGLIO

LIKELY CANDIDATES – TIM TARANTO/TOM GREEN

Coniglio is now a couple of seasons into a deal that extends to 2026 so you’d think he’ll be captain for a few years yet, but waiting in the wings are two budding leaders that will be more than ready to offer their services.

Tim Taranto is already a club best and fairest winner. He is a wonderful two-way midfielder, with a defensive side to his game to rival his offensive skills. A shoulder injury derailed his 2020 season and set him back in terms of building on his excellent 2019 campaign, but in a star-studded midfield, Taranto could be the one to watch in 2021

Tom Green may seem like a left field choice, but I am fully suspecting we have at least another 3-4 years of Cogs in the captaincy role. That’ll mean that Green will be around 24 when the role is up for grabs and from what I have seen of Green, he could be something special.

Taranto may be the front runner, but the work of Green in the clinches was lost on some in 2020. He had one game where he racked up 21 contested touches amongst his 30 disposals for the game. He will develop into a midfield monster over the next two seasons and along the way, my guess is that his name will be floated as a future captain of this club.

Finally, I would not rule out Jacob Hopper, either.

TIMEFRAME – 2023-24

 

HAWTHORN

CURRENT – BEN MCEVOY

LIKELY CANDIDATE – JAMES WORPEL

The appointment of McEvoy surprised some, but also cast a bit of doubt on the mid-twenties players at Hawthorn and their willingness, or capacity to take on a leadership role. That’s why I am looking a little further down the list at 22-year-old Worpel.

Already a Peter Crimmins Medallist, Worpel’s commitment to the cause and his head down/bum up workmanlike style is the hard edge that the Hawks need in the middle in the long term. Already in the leadership group, he is a 200-250 game player in the making and if he can recapture his 2019 form, he automatically makes the Hawks a more dangerous team.

McEvoy is 31 so you cannot see him holding down the captaincy for longer than a couple of seasons. By then, you’d hope Worpel is ready to assume the role.

Some might argue Mitchell or O’Meara will get a run as the captain, but I’d argue that they would not be more ready than they were a month ago, and the club went in a different direction.

TIMEFRAME – Following 2022 season

 

MELBOURNE

CURRENT – MAX GAWN

LIKELY CANDIDATE – CLAYTON OLIVER

Clayton Oliver is born to lead this Demons team. Still just 23, by the time Gawn is ready to relinquish the captaincy, Oliver will be mid-twenties and cherry ripe to take over.

His style of play – cracking in and competing for the hard ball – is the type of game that exudes leadership qualities, much the same as Josh Kennedy at Sydney – leading through his actions.

Oliver is one of just three men to ever crack 400 contested touches in a season. He is in great company, with Patrick Dangerfield (twice) and Josh Kennedy (three times) the only other men to accomplish this. Clarrie had that achievement tucked away at age 21. A couple of years ago I mentioned he’ll go down as an all-time Melbourne great and people cracked in. I’m a patient man… I still think I’m right on that one.

TIMEFRAME – Following 2023 season

 

NORTH MELBOURNE

CURRENT – JACK ZIEBELL

LIKELY CANDIDATES – JY SIMPKIN/LUKE DAVIES-UNIACKE

Some may prefer Luke Davies-Uniacke in the role and that could be an option, but at 21, LDU is a year behind Simpkin and that may provide the difference.

Simpkin is a hard at it, in and under mid who can hurt teams. His pairing with LDU over the next 6-7 years will be vital to the rise of the Kangaroos. At 29, Jack Ziebell appears to be playing hurt as often as he does healthy. I have to admit, I thought he was in his thirties already given the way he moved last season. I can see him stepping down as early as the 2021 post-season to allow North to move in a different direction, but will either of these blokes be ready for the burden of leadership at that stage?

TIMEFRAME – 2021-22

 

PORT ADELAIDE

CURRENT – TOM JONAS

LIKELY CANDIDATES – OLLIE WINES/DARCY BYRNE-JONES

Would the Power go back to the well with Ollie Wines?

After a period where his tenure at the club seemed to be tenuous, Wines recommitted to Port and his 2020 efforts were exactly what the club wanted from him 12 months earlier. Maybe he was not ready for the responsibility, or maybe there was a perfect storm of injuries, poor decisions and poor form that caused him to fall out of favour in 2019, but the 2020 version of Wines was everything you’d want in an emerging leader.

Tom Jonas turned 30 last month, so you’d expect his tenure to last a couple more years before he hands it over. Wines is currently 26 and below him, Darcy Byrne-Jones, at 25, has demonstrated the qualities club honchos would be watching carefully.

Looking further down the track, some close to the club have talked up the maturity of Xavier Duursma. The 20 year old budding archer might have a bit more maturing to do before he can be considered, but Dan Houston, at 23, is definitely one that will be looked at as a future leader of the club.

TIMEFRAME – Following 2022 season

 

RICHMOND

CURRENT – TRENT COTCHIN

LIKELY CANDIDATE – JACK GRAHAM

What do you get from Jack Graham that five or six others do not provide at Tigerland?

It’s difficult to choose an heir apparent to Cotchin, as he is a heart and soul player in essence, but Graham provides much of those characteristics as well. One only has to hark back to his gallant efforts, playing with a dislocated shoulder in the 2019 Preliminary Final against the Cats. It was an injury that would have sidelined many, but there was Graham, throwing himself into contest after contest despite immense pain.

That is leadership, and even if it doesn’t translate to the stats sheet, it is the kind of act that inspires those around him. Captain Jack… has a nice ring to it.

Almost as good as Captain Nick…

TIMEFRAME – Following 2022 season

 

ST KILDA

CURRENT – JARRYN GEARY

LIKELY CANDIDATE – JACK STEELE

This is the second club that seems to have a clear and apparent heir to the captaincy.

Jack Steele is everything you’d want in a leader. Hard at the contest, runs hard both ways and applies pressure above and beyond most of those around him. A best and fairest, an All-Australian selection and a hunger to see the Saints emerge as a contender have pushed him into the spotlight as the Saints’ number one midfielder. The captaincy seems a formality.

This should be Jarryn Geary’s last season at the helm. A broken leg in the pre-season will see Brett Ratten start to explore the leadership at the club. I’d expect Steele to be right up to his eyeballs in the mix for a ran as skipper.

As for others, I could see someone like Nick Coffield being considered at some stage. At 21, he has the defensive general kind of vibes about him, whilst Rowan Marshall, at 25, should be in the mix as well.

TIMEFRAME – End of 2021 season, if not sooner.

 

SYDNEY

CURRENT – JOSH KENNEDY/LUKE PARKER/DANE RAMPE

LIKELY CANDIDATES – LUKE PARKER/ISAAC HEENEY/CALLUM MILLS

So, do the Swans want a short-term captain, or a long-term appointment? That’s the question facing them as Josh Kennedy comes to the end of the road.

JPK is currently 32 and has slowed considerably from the lofty heights he occupied a few years ago. Not a knock on Josh – Father Time gets us all.

Luke Parker is the safe option as a standalone captain. At 28, he has a few years of really good footy left in him and has been an on-field leader for years already.

Now 30, instituting Dane Rampe in the role as a standalone captain would be another very short-term fix. Co-captain maybe as good as it gets for him. He would have been terrific as sole captain, but timing hasn’t worked in his favour

If the Swans opt for a youth movement, both Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills have demonstrated on-field leadership aplenty during their short careers.

Heeney is roughly a year older than Mills and has the superstar feel about him, but needs to stay on the park for a whole season. Mills has developed into a wonderful half-back and would be a great choice in the role.

Part of me wonders that when JPK steps down, whether we’ll see Sydney move away from their multi-ball solution and a single leader instituted. If so, Parker gets a couple of years at the top alone.

TIMEFRAME – Possible reshuffle of the deck at the end of 2021 season

 

WEST COAST

CURRENT – LUKE SHUEY

LIKELY CANDIDATES – ELLIOT YEO/ANDREW GAFF/CAPTAIN DARLING

I can’t believe Luke Shuey will turn 31 during this season, but like Dayne Zorko at Brisbane, it puts the topic of future captain on the agenda. Whilst I expect Shuey to captain the Eagles into and through the 2022 season, a new leader in 2023 would be likely.

At that stage, a couple of those listed would be 30, themselves, with Yeo not too far away, either. Maybe we need to look a little further down the list for the next Eagles captain?

Does Dom Sheed (currently 25) have leadership aspirations? How about Tom Barrass (aged 25)?

If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t mind having a few dollars on Liam Duggan. With 103 games under his belt, the 24 year old is making his move to command a bigger role in the Eagles set up this year (he started last year, actually) and with the right supports around him, he could be the surprise selection as the next West Coast skipper.

Oh, and I apologise for the Blackadder reference in the “likely candidate” section. Couldn’t help myself.

TIMEFRAME – End of 2022 season

 

WESTERN BULLDOGS

CURRENT – MARCUS BONTEMPELLI

LIKELY CANDIDATE – BAILEY SMITH

The Bont has taken on the responsibility with the Dogs – it is well and truly his team in every way, but Smith is emerging as an on-field leader who does not take a backward step. I have watched him take on the challenge of stifling Patrick Cripps at stoppages and backing himself in to win the footy, and you could sense how he wanted to out-perform Sam Walsh when he came up against the Blues as well.

He is driven; a competitive beast who sets an example others will follow. At just 20, he has years to develop into the next leader of this Dogs outfit, and with Bont five years his senior, I could definitely see him passing the torch to Smith as he nears 30-31 years old.

TIMEFRAME – 2025-26

 

And there we go. Anyone I missed? Anyone I am way off the mark with? You know where to find us on our socials, or get me in the comments below.

 

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