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13th February 2018, 15:51 | super_league

What makes a great captain?

What makes a great captain?

Any champion team has a champion leader. You need look no further than Leeds Rhinos' extraordinary Super League success under Kevin Sinfield to see what is possible, what is achievable, under the guidance of a legend.

That leader needs to "maintain calm, talk sense and be on the field a lot" according to the champions' head coach Brian McDermott when asked why he has turned to his unassuming England international centre Kallum Watkins to succeed departed Grand Final-winning skipper Danny McGuire.

For McGuire himself, his two years filling the Sinfield void highlighted what a challenge it can be. By his own admission McGuire struggled in the wretched season that followed the retirement of Sinfield, and fellow leaders Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai.

Recovering from his own injury problems left McGuire unable to give the captaincy his full focus. He admitted himself he was concentrating on getting his own game right, to the detriment at times of leading the team. Masterminding a win at Old Trafford a year later underlined both his class and outstanding leadership qualities.

Yet there is no black and white answer to a coach's captaincy conundrum. Ask any manager and you will get a slightly different answer.

In Sinfield, McGuire and now Watkins, McDermott has shown a very clear notion of what he wants in his skipper.

"You don't speak too much and when you do speak they listen. Being a fine player is just a part of it, it's what you do off the field as well."

Stevie Ward was the other obvious candidate in the same mould. Yet listening to McDermott talk about needing the captain as an almost ever-present, you suspect Ward's own injury-ravaged career to date played against him.

Other coaches see other priorities in captains, namely a playmaker, who will bark instructions and call his own plays, with the strength of mind to back himself and win games with moments of genius. Sean Long and Lee Briers were two outstanding examples.

Neither player would claim to be the greatest ambassador of impeccable behaviour off the field. Indeed Long's controversy-fuelled career - his autobiography he named "booze, brawls, sex and scandal" probably restricted what his enigmatic genius could otherwise have achieved in his career. But with a game on the line, there is nobody you would want to give the ball, nobody you would trust to guide the team home, more than a Long or Briers.

And that in turn highlights the other crucial part of captaincy. A respect and understanding between captain and coach. Watching Watkins and McDermott talk in each others' company, the mutual respect is evident.

Respect and ultimate trust. The kind of trust which allows a coach to let the captain call the game as he sees it. The kind of trust that allows the coach to be sure every player on that field is being looked after.

A coach in the stands cannot console a young winger when he drops a high ball. He can't calm down his fiery prop who has lit the fuse and spends the next five tackles trying to take an opponent's head off.

Sinfield, Sean O'Loughlin, Andy Farrell,  Chris Joynt, Paul Wellens. Watching these guys captain a side you felt the coach could leave the stadium for half an hour and the  game would be in good hands.

The one thing all these names share is that they are or were outstanding players, Super League greats. The easiest way to command respect as skipper is to be the best player on the pitch. And more often than not all of these were.