With Super Rugby AU less than a week away, the SANZAAR team casts their eyes over the five captains set to lead their teams in 2021.
QLD REDS - James O’Connor
It’s been five days since James O’Connor learned he’d be taking over from the injured Liam Wright as Queensland’s interim skipper but the news still packs a punch.
Brad Thorn’s decision to endorse the reformed playmaker over rising star Fraser McReight surprised only those outside the Reds playing group with teammates wildly applauding for O’Connor when the penny dropped after training last Friday.
The 55-Test Wallaby said he was “humbled” to take on the captaincy and that his appointment had prompted “quite an emotional moment” ahead of Queensland’s opening Super Rugby AU clash with NSW.
"Being in Australia, going away, coming back, just everything that's been a part of it.
"It's truly humbling."
Now, O’Connor’s leadership credentials will face their sternest test with Queensland widely tipped to take the Super Rugby AU crown in 2021.
Having played a senior role in the Reds’ run to last year’s grand final, O’Connor must lead them a step further to secure his legacy as Queensland’s prodigal son and help Thorn deliver a title four years in the making.
NSW WARATAHS - JAKE GORDON
With no Michael Hooper or Rob Simmons to call on, NSW halfback Jake Gordon is the man charged with leading the Waratahs in their Super Rugby AU 2021.
Described by NSW coach Rob Penney as a 'true-blue Tah', Gordon has wasted little time in touting his side’s credentials after a middling 2020 campaign that saw them finish 4-4.
"Last time (the media) wrote us off, when we played the Reds we won 45-12," Gordon quipped after being appointed Tahs skipper.
“We have a great bunch of young guys with extreme amounts of talent. I know we've lost a lot of maturity in Simmons and Hooper ... but we'll be an exciting team.”
While Gordon’s Super Rugby captaincy remains untested, the halfback boasts 55 NSW caps, five Wallabies Tests and a prior co-captaincy with Ned Hanigan at NRC level.
This, coupled with a lively showing in the Waratah’s 45-43 trial match victory over Queensland, holds Gordon in good stead to lead NSW to their first Super Rugby AU finals appearance.
James O'Connor will lead Reds in absence of Liam Wright
Melbourne Rebels - Dane Haylett-Petty
Dane Haylett-Petty remains the Rebel’s club skipper but there’s no knowing when he’ll be back for Melbourne in Super Rugby AU 2021.
Despite the Rebels enjoying a first-round bye, Haylett-Petty still won’t be lacing up his boots on February 26 with the 31-year-old struggling to recover from a concussion sustained during Australia’s Bledisloe Cup loss in Sydney last October.
Melbourne is yet to announce a potential return date for the 38-Test Wallaby and while an interim skipper hasn’t been named, Matt Toomua looms the likely candidate.
Rebels CEO Baden Stephenson has admitted as much in recent weeks, telling The Australian Toomua was "a natural leader and the standout candidate, given his experience and where he is playing".
“He’s a natural leader and the standout candidate, given his experience and where he is playing,” Stephenson told The Australian last week.
The 31-year-old playmaker also filled in for Haylett-Petty as skipper during Super Rugby AU 2020 before being injured during Melbourne’s preliminary final loss to Queensland.
Incumbent vice-captain Michael Wells is another candidate, however the flanker’s appointment would be left-field given his starting berth isn’t guaranteed in a highly competitive Rebels backrow.
ACT Brumbies – Allan Alaalatoa
The Wallabies prop is returning as Captain for the side in the capital after a stellar 2020 season. After leading the Brumbies to a Super Rugby AU Championship, Alaalatoa and Co. will be looking to keep up their incredible form.
Alaalatoa made his debut for the Brumbies back in 2014 and has gone on to make 90 appearances for the side, and 43 for the Wallabies, establishing himself as one of the most devastating props in the game.
2020 was the first year Alaalatoa stepped into the captaincy role and he led the side perfectly. The side lost only one game in the regular Super Rugby competition last year before it was cancelled, and then would only lose twice before claiming the Super Rugby AU crown.
Alaalatoa and his team will have a massive target on their backs as they look to go back to back in Super Rugby AU and with 28 members of the title winning squad returning, it is shaping up to be another big year for the side.
Alan Alaalatoa and coach Dan McKellar will look for more success in 2021
Western Force - Ian Prior
Scrumhalf Ian Prior will once again lead the Force as they look to get their first win in Super Rugby AU after being reintroduced into the competition last season. After making his debut for the Pert-based side in 2014 against the Brumbies, Prior has made over 70 appearances for the club and first took the reigns in 2018, leading the club through a transitional phase.
Prior recently said that he is thrilled to be leading the club again through what is looking to be a promising season for the side.
“It’s extremely humbling to be given the privilege and opportunity to captain the side in 2021,” Prior said.
“We’ve got a well-balanced squad with fantastic depth, which has created great competition for places. It’s been great to see a number of homegrown pathway players join the team and we’re raring to get the season underway.”
Prior will have his work cut out for him as the Force look to get their first Super Rugby win since the 2017 season. There are promising signs however, as the side fell to a narrow one-point loss against the Champion Brumbies side in their only pre-season fixture.