True leaders: Walker's On

Each week former Queensland State of Origin strike weapon Chris Walker writes exclusively for QRL.com.au.

Leadership is a hot topic this week.

But don’t fear - I won’t get bogged down too much in what has happened with Aussie cricket, now that every man and his dog has had their say.

What has interested me most is relating the whole dynamic of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft back to my own rugby league experiences with captains.

I want to tell you about five great captains I played under – and one who wasn’t so good.

When I initially came into first grade Allan ‘Alfie’ Langer was the skipper and, I have to admit I was extremely fortunate to come along when I did.

The only downside of playing under a guy who I reckon is an absolute legend of the game was his penchant for having a nervous spew before a game.

In my debut against Cronulla I stood beside Alf in the dressing sheds and he threw up into a bin.

I’ll admit I have a terrible gag reflex and I had a battle on my hands just to keep my own stomach contents in order.

After that, I avoided standing besides him in the sheds, but he was always the type of guy you’d stand arm-in-arm with in the trenches.

Alf wasn’t one for grand speeches but everyone respected him to a man.

You loved playing alongside him and for him. He had such a competitive spirit.

Most people know Alfie for his jovial side, and I won’t lie – being able to crack a joke and take the pressure off his teammates was a real strength.

But he was also a great man for gelling the men around him and turning a game on its head when the big play was needed.

To me, the sign of a great leader is that he can put on his serious face when needed, but can also take teammates’ minds off things when required.

You always knew when Alf was serious and when he was mucking around. One thing he was always serious about was winning.

People have built up this image if Alf as a ‘goodtime guy’, but when he was having fun and leading the group in celebrations, he did it respectfully.

The next great captain was Gorden Tallis, who we all know for his immense passion.

I actually told Gordie after a few drinks once that playing NRL with him was like taking your older brother to the playground.

You knew when he was in your side that no other team would stand over you.

It brought an immense sense of confidence.

Gordie was the sort of guy who would lift in intensity every five minutes as you approached a game, and that would wash across the entire squad.

They may not seem to have much in common to look at them, but I reckon Gordie and Brad Fittler were the two captains I played under that were most similar.

They’re both knockabout blokes by day, but physically imposing and incredibly focused and ruthless when it came to performing.

Darren Lockyer was a guy that was somewhere in the middle of all this.

He had the jokey, friendly side of Langer, but also the intensity of a Tallis or Fittler.

You had the feeling he cherry-picked the best of the captains he played under and brought that to his regime.

Like the others, his skill was choosing the exact point where he told blokes to get serious and picking the point where he lightened the mood.

Locky was a real statesman, a diplomat, and I thoroughly endorse anyone that says he should be the next of The Immortals.

The fifth skipper I played under that I want to give a rap to is a bloke not many casual NRL fans will know – Keiron Lander.

Keiron is a fair few years younger than me, but when I played under him at the Ipswich Jets, he had an undeniable presence.

You might be able to think of 100 footballers who were better at the game than Keiron, but put him in the same room, and he’s the type of guy they would listen to.

He had an aura that you couldn’t help but respect.

You’d look around the sheds before the game and know he was going to give 100 per cent and leave no stone unturned – each and every game.

The thing with being a leader in a professional sports team is that it often only takes two guys causing trouble to buck the system.

That’s incredibly hard to keep the lid on, especially with all the other things a skipper has to take into consideration each week.

I’ve thought about this ‘two bad apples’ rule before and, excuse the pun, but it seems to have borne fruit in the whole cricket imbroglio.

So, I guess you are waiting for me to spill the beans on the captain I thought was least suited to the role.

I’m not going to mention specific names, but this bloke‘s downfall was that he tried to be ‘one of the boys’ too much.

He was actually an awesome guy – a real lovely bloke – but when you partied, all too often he would be the first guy to head out and the last guy to come home.

That’s fantastic if you want to win the favour of the younger guys in a team, but when it comes to being respected as a leadership figure for a whole club, it doesn’t work.

Under him, the whole show felt like it was a bit loose and flailing about.

Don’t get me wrong – I think a skipper needs to go out for a night with the rest of the squad when needed.

If you never join your teammates for a good time, they’ll start to think you’re a bit of a weirdo.

But you need to remember you are there to lead, and you need to be your own man (or woman) when it comes to dicey situations.

A good captain never thinks of himself as being above the group, but shows a level of intuition that leads to better choices than those who are under his watch.