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Opinion

The obvious choice for Richmond's next captain - and no, it isn't Dusty

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Expert
15th September, 2021
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Toby Nankervis should be the next captain of the Richmond Football Club.

After Trent Cotchin stood down from his role as the club’s leader on Tuesday evening, the commencement of rumour, innuendo and social media campaigning came into play to advocate for his successor.

It became increasingly clear that there isn’t one standout candidate at the Tigers.

Of course, Cotchin’s captaincy legacy is legendary, if not divisive to those outside of the club’s stakeholders.

One-hundred and eighty-eight games in charge since taking over as a 22-year-old, eventually leading the club to three premierships is a record that very few players will be able to own.

In his prime, Cotchin was a star of the competition. In Richmond’s prime, he didn’t need to be. He became the inspirational type of player who’d do anything for his team.

Being impactful became the crux of his game, and he transformed into a strong facilitator when it came to the re-imaging of the Tigers as a family-oriented, all-encompassing club that focused on clear communications and nurturing the players, as realised by coach Damien Hardwick.

That, in the end, is quintessentially Richmond in the modern era where they’re one of the greatest teams.

Trent Cotchin reacts

Trent Cotchin. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

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Dustin Martin has long-held great weight in the argument for best player in the competition, and everyone else adds their value in many different ways, not needing to be stars.

The Tigers’ success was built on unity and strength, which no doubt will look to be maintained heading forward into a future that doesn’t demand immediate premiership favouritism.

The playing group, and the coaching staff, understand what the leader of Richmond should look like.

This is a team that even at their worst, play for each other and possess a number of strong leaders that simply don’t need the title to justify their status.

It’s times like these where the reverberations of success have an unexpected, positive influence on the chemistry of a group.

Really, there is no wrong choice for Richmond with their new captain. It may come down to where the club sees its own position heading into the next couple of seasons.

With a strong draft hand, featuring two first-round picks with potential for a third to be brought in during the trade period, a complete rebuild isn’t necessary.

There’s enough talent in this group to top up with elite youth to match the strong squad that exists, taking full advantage of the ageing, yet performing players that are committed to the cause.

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It’s perhaps why Jack Graham mightn’t necessarily be the guaranteed option many believe him to be.

Jack Graham of the Tigers in action

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

At 23 years of age, Graham’s a year older than Cotchin when he took over and has a strong resume having captained South Australia before being drafted.

Graham transformed his game from a pure inside midfielder to being one of the fittest players at Richmond, working hard on the spread to be more impactful on the outside, increasing his output to manage 11 goals and 15 goal assists in 2021.

There’s plenty of support for Graham to guide him along the way if appointed, but service as vice-captain or further opportunities in the leadership group wouldn’t go amiss either.

Stronger murmurings from supporters indicate that a preferred option would be to partner these opportunities for Graham with a temporary captain for a couple of seasons.

Dylan Grimes is the major name that comes up, having filled in on the odd occasion for Richmond, while Jack Riewoldt and Shane Edwards are two others who have been mentioned.

Grimes is one of the best and most unassuming defenders in the league with strong performances in the media. Despite public objections of his style of play from opposition fans, he is a well-respected part of the AFL community and would hold such a role with great respect.

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Another candidate would no doubt be Dustin Martin, to hold the role on a short-term basis. This would ultimately be another example of giving the title to someone who is already seen as a leader within the tent.

Perhaps the coaching staff would like to use it to motivate the veteran further, to help him recapture his very best form.

Another AFL fan ‘favourite’, Tom J Lynch has held the role of co-captain at the Suns and is the first answer often given by veteran players at the Tigers as to who would be a natural fit for the role.

Perhaps on-field indiscretions are a blemish on how he is seen across the league, although he’d hardly be the first captain to be seen in that way, and he is a leader from the front.

Once upon a time, it was clear that Nick Vlastuin was destined to be lead the football club going forward, yet as time has gone on, the focus has seemingly shifted to be leading the defence and trying to curb undisciplined actions.

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The 27-year-old has the qualities of a captain, yet he has moved from the consensus pick in the past, to perhaps an option if he chose to pursue it.

Already there are plenty of justifiable options the Tigers could go with to meet their cultural and playing desires. These are players who have helped build the club into a juggernaut in the past, no doubt seeking similar glory in the future.

Yet we must once again reflect on what is quintessentially Richmond.

We see the term “spiritual leader” bandied around in an almost obsessive manner when describing certain players, but for what the Tigers have built, a leader at the club should possess the intangibles.

Most of the aforementioned players have what it takes to be skipper, but we simply should not overlook the power of Toby Nankervis, who himself owns the spiritual tag at Tigerland.

Toby Nankervis looks on

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

His impact on Richmond has been incredible since moving across cheaply from the Sydney Swans, perhaps being the single most important cog in the Richmond machine across the three premierships, save for the magnificence of the No.4.

Nankervis isn’t a quantity player, but rather an impactful, quality type who possesses the ‘do what it takes’ attitude that Cotchin showcased in the Tiger era.

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The 27-year-old will hunt the ball in a similar manner to his former skipper, he’ll fight hard in ruck contests and lay tackles to hold the ball in and is one of the league’s premier rucks in terms of defensive work ethic, to have an impact as an interceptor.

Since 2017, Richmond has won 68.38 per cent of their total games. With Nankervis in the team, they’ve won 72.09 per cent of their games.

The ruckman isn’t the club’s best player, but he is vitally important and it’s as much to do with his passion and on-field leadership, as it is to do with his talent.

He owns the intangibles Richmond live for and is the perfect leader to motivate using actions, rather than words that his colleagues can fill the gaps with.

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Nankervis doesn’t do much media at all, just ask Brian Taylor, but that hasn’t been required of him to this point in his career.

Perhaps his disdain for it is slightly inhibiting, but not having done media is hardly a cross against his name when others have had similar experiences pre-captaincy; Hawthorn’s Ben McEvoy springs to mind.

The triple-premiership player’s fitness is the only real sticking point, having played just 39 of a possible 68 games in the last three seasons, but decisions cannot be based on unpredictability.

Perhaps the club splits the role across a couple of people, or they assign specific roles within the leadership group to accommodate for the various figures that are inevitable candidates for the position.

Maybe they choose to go with the younger option, or they let Graham grow further and go with a shorter-term appointment.

If the Tigers are seeking the best possible representative to showcase Richmond and what the club is to its core, there is no better man for the job than Toby Nankervis.

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