Who Should Be the Next Captain of Every AFL Club?

One of the most decorated captains of all time in Trent Cotchin announced he is stepping down from the role ahead of the 2022 season, leaving the Tigers to commence the search for their next leader. Richmond has a number of choices for their future captain and there are some other AFL clubs that have obvious successors. That isn’t the case for every team though, with plenty of surprise candidates in line to one day take over the top job.

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Adelaide Crows

Current Captain: Rory Sloane
Next Captain: Tom Doedee

Longshot: Reilly O’Brien

It’s widely believed that Rory Sloane’s successor at West Lakes is already being moulded for the job with 24-year old Tom Doedee poised to be Adelaide’s next captain. Sloane should hold the role until the end of his playing days and if the club deems Doedee isn’t ready when that day arrives, we could see Matt Crouch and/or Rory Laird fill the void briefly. Reilly O’Brien could become a left field pick, but he seems best suited as a leadership group member or Doedee’s backup a few years from now.

Brisbane Lions

Current Captain: Dayne Zorko
Next Captain: Harris Andrews

Longshot: Hugh McCluggage

Dayne Zorko doesn’t appear ready to step down from his role in the near future, but Brisbane have a number of promising youngsters to hand the reigns to once his days as skipper are done. While Lachie Neale and Daniel Rich deserve mention, the obvious future replacement appears to be All-Australian defender and Lions vice-captain Harris Andrews. Zorko holding down the job for a few more seasons to then make way for Andrews seem logistical; however, if Brisbane’s current captain holds the job for another 4-5 years, we could see Hugh McCluggage emerge as the long-term replacement.

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Carlton Blues

Current Captain: Patrick Cripps & Sam Docherty
Next Captain: Sam Walsh

Longshot: Jacob Weitering

This one seems pretty obvious. While Patrick Cripps has struggled with form and health in recent times, his tenure as Carlton’s captain doesn’t appear to come to an abrupt end anytime soon – while the days seem numbered for his counterpart Sam Docherty. If either or both Blues were to bow out, midfield prodigy Sam Walsh would almost certainly step into the role, with the 21-year old already a part of the leadership group. Stud defender Jacob Weitering found himself added to that mix last season as well and if Carlton deems that Walsh isn’t ready to take the job when/if the role becomes vacant, Weitering could steal the spot for a few years.

Collingwood Magpies

Current Captain: Scott Pendlebury
Next Captain: Taylor Adams

Longshot: Darcy Moore

When Scott Pendlebury does eventually step down from this role, his replacement will have some massive shoes to fill, but Taylor Adams is primed to hold his own should he take over the role. Having spent multiple seasons as vice-captain and even more in the Pies’ leadership group, a consistent clean bill of health might be the only thing working against Adams’ chances of captaining Collingwood. If the club was to chase a younger player as their next leader then star backman Darcy Moore could be thrust into the spotlight.

Essendon Bombers

Current Captain: Dyson Heppell
Next Captain: Andrew McGrath

Longshot: Zach Merrett

An impressive showing as a leader during his school and junior days has Andrew McGrath earmarked as Essendon’s next skipper. The big question is when will he be ready? Current captain Dyson Heppell could very well hand the baton over during this offseason, but I’m predicting the Dons to wait at least one more season before anointing McGrath. Zach Merrett has worked on his leadership credentials and if Essendon deems McGrath as unfit for the position we could see Merrett take the reins or split the duties with his younger teammate for a season or two.

Fremantle Dockers

Current Captain: Nat Fyfe
Next Captain: Andrew Brayshaw

Longshot: Alex Pearce

Current Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe has grown immensely in the role since 2017 and he doesn’t seem ready to relinquish that title any time soon. However, when the time is right, every casual footy fan expects Andrew Brayshaw to take control with a long term transition already essentially in place. David Mundy and Michael Walters are fellow leadership group members who have stepped up in Fyfe’s absence previously, but key backman Alex Pearce is probably the only real threat on the list to Brayshaw as Freo’s next skipper.

Geelong Cats

Current Captain: Joel Selwood
Next Captain: Tom Stewart

Longshot: Brandan Parfitt

As early as Round 3 of the 2022 season, Joel Selwood can overtake Stephen Kernahan for the most games captained in AFL history. With Geelong’s favourite son poised to run it back next season, it’s very possible that will be his final season of footy – forcing the Cats to start their search for their next leader. Enter Tom Stewart, who is highly regarded within the four walls at Geelong and plays a tough brand of footy that can galvanise those around him. Current Cats deputy Patrick Dangerfield and his fellow elder statesman, Mitch Duncan, Zach Tuohy and Marc Blicavs could all bridge the transition by taking over for a year or two, but Stewart appears to be the clear long-term solution.

Gold Coast Suns

Current Captain: David Swallow & Jarrod Witts
Next Captain: Touk Miller

Longshot: Matt Rowell

The one-two punch that is Jarrod Witts & David Swallow has helped provide the Suns with some stability from a leadership perspective, but a change is on the horizon. I wouldn’t be shocked if Gold Coast relieved those two of their duties as soon as this offseason and gave Touk Miller the outright responsibility after his stellar 2021 season. Should the aforementioned duo hold on for a bit longer, then look at Matthew Rowell to put his hand up after he gets another 50-100 games of footy under his belt.

Greater Western Sydney

Current Captain: Stephen Coniglio
Next Captain: Toby Greene

Longshot: Jacob Hopper

Personally, changing the title to co-captains and promoting Toby Greene might be a smart move for GWS to consider before the 2022 season commences. Coniglio hasn’t exactly thrived under the pressure that comes associated with being an AFL captain and while many casual fans have their own formulated opinions on Greene, there’s no doubt the Giants players perform better when he’s leading the troops. The mercurial forward could even take the title solely from Cogs, but if neither of them fit the bill, Jacob Hopper is fast rising as a contender to become Greater Western Sydney’s 5th captain.

Hawthorn Hawks

Current Captain: Ben McEvoy
Next Captain: Jaeger O’Meara

Longshot: James Worpel

Choosing Ben McEvoy as the skipper for 2021 puzzled a few footy enthusiasts and at 31, it’s fair to assume Big Boy won’t remain in the role for long. Now that Sam Mitchell has been handed head coaching responsibilities, we could see an instant change as the leader of the club, with Jaeger O’Meara and Tom Mitchell the two red-hot contenders. After the pair was overlooked last season though, don’t rule out James Worpel as the future Hawks skipper, following his promotion to the leadership group prior to the 2021 campaign.

Image from heraldsun.com.au

Melbourne Demons

Current Captain: Max Gawn
Next Captain: Christian Petracca

Longshot: Jake Lever

Melbourne won’t need to worry about their next captain for a few season yet with Max Gawn flourishing as the lead Dee. When the time does come for another captain to be elected, there are a high number of candidates for the club to choose from, with midfield bulls Christian Petracca and/or Clayton Oliver likely to be amongst the first handful of candidates. While Steven May has captain experience from his time with the Suns, I’d keep an eye on his backline buddy and intercept king Jake Lever as another potential smokey to lead the Demons in the future.

North Melbourne Kangaroos

Current Captain: Jack Ziebell
Next Captain: Jy Simpkin

Longshot: Ben Cunnington

There’s no clear cut choice for North Melbourne to succeed Jack Ziebell, but after a strong 5th season in the system, Jy Simpkin has well and truly put his hand up. With the Kangaroos currently transitioning out of their rebuild (or at least trying to) a lot of their young talents could derail Simpkin’s chance if they start to thrive, but the exciting Roo is an easy pick to lead the club once Ziebell calls time. If the current skipper wants to step away ASAP, then we could see another veteran à la Ben Cunnington bridge the gap for a season or two, but there aren’t too many North players sticking their hands up to take over the reins.

Port Adelaide Power

Current Captain: Tom Jonas
Next Captain: Ollie Wines

Longshot: Xavier Duursma

After electing to have co-captains during the 2020 season, Port Adelaide went back to a traditional solo skipper last year with Tom Jonas taking the lead role and Ollie Wines stepping back to serve as his deputy. That naturally makes Wines the obvious replacement for Jonas should a change of leadership be in order, but a number of the Power’s young guns could emerge as the right choice for the future. Zak Butters and Connor Rozzee fit that mould, but Xavier Duursma would be my pick of the bunch if Port opted to shake things up and hand responsibility to a younger talent.

Richmond Tigers

Current Captain: Trent Cotchin
Next Captain: Nick Vlaustin

Longshot: Jack Graham

Trent Cotchin has obviously stepped down after 188 games as Richmond’s captain and there are a number of directions the club could go in to find his replacement. Champion forward Jack Riewoldt may find himself promoted after years of service as Cotchin’s long-term deputy, but at 33 the Tigers may want to elect for a younger leader who can grow into the role. Enter Nick Vlaustin, who is in the mainstream choice, is in the prime of his career and is widely respected throughout the league. However, if Richmond wants to go younger still, Jack Graham could be their man following a career-best season where he emerged as the future of the Tigers’ midfield.

St Kilda Saints

Current Captain: Jack Steele & Jarryn Geary
Next Captain: Callum Wilkie

Longshot: Jack Billings

Jarryn Geary has held down the top leadership role since 2017 for St Kilda, but after a fantastic individual season, there’s growing momentum for Jack Steele to fly solo in the position starting next year. Of course, that means there’s no urgency for the Saints to think about their next skipper, but if Steele hands over responsibility for one reason or another, Callum Wilkie could become a dark horse candidate following a stellar start to his AFL career. Jack Billings could be thrown into the same boat as Wilkie and St Kilda prospects such as Max King and/or Nick Coffield could stick their hands up by the time a new captain is required.

Sydney Swans

Current Captain: Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy & Dane Rampe
Next Captain: Callum Mills

Longshot: Errol Gulden

Since the beginning of 2019, Sydney has had three players atop the leadership pecking order with Luke Parker (28 years old), Josh Kennedy (33) and Dane Rampe (31) all sharing the duties. With Kennedy and Rampe likely call it quits before Parker, you’d think the reigning best & fairest winner would take over sole responsibilities until he too decides enough is enough. Once that trio is out of the picture, Callum Mills is the next logical choice to become captain, but don’t rule out first-year sensation Errol Gulden one day leading the Swans.

West Coast Eagles

Current Captain: Luke Shuey
Next Captain: Jeremy McGovern

Longshot: Tom Barrass

A string of injuries have hampered Luke Shuey’s brief captaincy so far and there’s no reason why West Coast needs to start thinking about their future leader just yet. Nic Naitanui could bob up as the next skipper if Shuey were to pull the pin, but I think the smarter choice is Jeremy McGovern. The backline stalwart could take the mantle over from Shuey when the time is right and the current vice-captain has proved his worth as an Eagles leader. A lot of senior leaders could put their hand up to succeed Shuey, but if he holds down the role for a few more seasons look for Dom Sheed, Liam Duggan or perhaps even Tom Barrass to emerge as an option down the road.

Western Bulldogs

Current Captain: Marcus Bontempelli
Next Captain: Bailey Smith

Longshot: Lachie Hunter

The Bulldogs made the interesting choice to abolish their leadership group last year, with Marcus Bontempelli the lone skipper and Mitch Wallis promoted as his deputy. Regardless of if the Dogs choose to add to their two-pronged leadership group, the Bont isn’t stepping down anytime soon, making the discussion for their next skipper a somewhat useless exercise. If they did opt for change Bailey Smith has proved his big-game credentials in the 2021 finals and could be trusted to lead the club when Bontempelli steps down. Former vice-captain Lachie Hunter may have shot himself in the foot after previous off-field indiscretions, but he may be a short term solution if a crisis struck and a new leader was required.

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