The NRL’s 2016 Men of League Foundation Round (Round 20 – July 21-25) is fast approaching and the charity has partnered with the Australian Kangaroos in the quest to find history’s foremost national skipper – the Captains’ Captain.
Rugby league has long honoured and rewarded its greatest heroes, but the Captains' Captain is a unique concept that recognises the recipient's service to the national team as well as their leadership, excellence and longevity in the game.
‘It's what they could inspire from their teammates and what that captaincy also inspired in them that mattered most’
While all players privileged enough to lead the Kangaroos embody those characteristics, the independent judging panel of league historian and statistician David Middleton, former Queensland representative Noel Kelly, Greg Alexander, author and journalist Ian Heads, QRL History Committee member Steve Ricketts and Phil Rothfield – as well as the public's vote – will make the final call from an esteemed field of 12.
Some of Queensland’s finest are represented in the elite dozen including current Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith and Immortals Clive Churchill (who played one game for Queensland), Arthur Beetson and Wally Lewis.
Chairman of the independent panel David Middleton has worked on projects including last year's Magnificent Seven, which recognised the game's premier halfbacks (including Johnathan Thurston and Allan Langer), but said this initiative was something special.
Middleton said: “To look at who the best captains were of all time, I think it's a really interesting concept because it's particularly difficult to judge given there is no set criteria.
“Just about everything else has been done – well I wouldn't say ‘everything’ – but we've seen the greatest teams, the top teams of the last 25 years, best coaches and toughest men in the game.
“They (Men of League) have had that many different concepts to promote their cause, and this is one that really hadn't been touched.”
More than stats
The search for Australia's greatest rugby league captain wasn’t just a simple number-crunching exercise with the panel taking several factors - from on and off the field - into account.
“It's easy to be wooed by longevity and the number of Tests that they’ve been captain, but there were a lot of other aspects to it," the rugby league expert said.
“We tried to balance it out by looking at their successes and some of their failures as well. We said that the captains would have to bear some of the loss as a coach or any player would.
“Someone might have a terrific record of winning series or World Cups, but if there were significant losses along the way, then it probably detracted a bit from them as a candidate."
Former Penrith and Warriors playmaker Greg Alexander further detailed what he thought made the ideal captain.
“It's not just about how good a player they were because most of them were great players,” he said.
“It's the influence they had over their teams or their touring squads, the sort of men they were, how they approached the game, how the public perceived them and a number of other things that you have to weigh up.
“All were champions on the field; it's what they could inspire from their teammates and what that captaincy also inspired in them that mattered most.”
The meeting of the minds was also a chance for the panellists to gain an insight into rugby league folklore they hadn't heard before from their fellow judges.
“I've enjoyed the last couple of hours just being able to chat about not only our nominees, but also to hear about Kangaroos stories related to some of the skippers we've spoken about,” Alexander continued.
“Ian Heads has been on a lot of tours, as has Ned (Noel Kelly). I've been on a couple of Kangaroos tours when they were genuine tours. There's been a good cross section of yarns dating back to the 1950s and '60s right through to now.”
Even Middleton – the man who knows just about everything there is to know about rugby league – picked up a few nuggets of information from his fellow panellists.
“I came here with a pretty open mind because I know the records of the players but there's a lot more to it than just knowing the numbers,” Middleton said.
“Ian Heads and Noel Kelly go back to the ‘50s and they knew the captains and knew what they were like so I was very interested to hear some of the stories they had to tell about them as people.
“'Brandy' (Alexander) has been around since the mid-1980s so he knows a lot about the characteristics of some of the modern-day players.”
Have your say
The Captains’ Captain will be announced at the Men of League Gala Dinner on Tuesday, July 19.
The general public can have their say on who they think they should be the Captains’ Captain by visiting menofleague.com.