I know we are all prone to over-reacting when a side fails to live up to expectations. Calls for change are standard operating procedure and the Warriors are facing that kind of scrutiny now as they free-fall off the edge of the 2015 season.
But hearing constant calls for Simon Mannering to be replaced as captain is flat out idiotic. There is no-one at the Warriors (or coming in 2016) that would hold a candle to Mannering as the club’s skipper. Mannering has been dealt a rough hand – he’s constantly had a side that is choc-full of natural talent but has lacked the basic fundamentals to make a decent footy side. He is criticised because his team is rubbish. Sorry but you cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. I don’t think Cam Smith, Paul Gallen, Wally Lewis or even the late great Arthur Beetson could have done any better captaining this side over the past four seasons. It was a poison chalice if ever there was one.
Mannering commands respect in a way no-one else at the club does. He is a natural leader and is universally respected. He’s in the prime of his career and has been nominated by Ivan Cleary, Brian McClennan, Matt Elliott, Andrew McFadden and even national coach Stephen Kearney as the finest leader available. But that isn’t enough for some Warriors fans who need to see wholesale change even if they aren’t quite sure what that change should be.
There are a distinct lack of alternate options, even if you bought into the school of thought that Mannering wasn’t a good option. Ryan Hoffman is an outsider having only arrived at the club this year and is from a far different background to the majority of the players on the Warriors roster. He has never been a captain and is right towards the end of his playing career. Should he take over, it would be a stop-gap measure and it hardly seems worth the move when he doesn’t seem to have anything else to offer that Mannering doesn’t already have. Shaun Johnson is already burdened with enough responsibility, leading the team’s attack and being the face of the club. He needs time to reach his full playing potential and handing him extra duties away from that core job will only hinder his progress. Whilst a popular player, he doesn’t quite command the same universal respect Mannering does. Issac Luke is a fine player but not a captain. Could you imagine what his post-match press conferences would sound like when the heat was on? Thomas Leuluai doesn’t command a starting spot in the 2016 side with the arrival of Luke while other senior players like Jacob Lillyman, Ben Matulino, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Manu Vatuvei don’t appear to be natural leaders. Promising younger players like Ben Henry and Albert Vete don’t have significant enough roles to warrant handing them the job at this point of their careers.
People often make the mistake of thinking captaincy is about yelling at players under the posts when they’re playing poorly. That is not a modern day captain’s job at all. The duties of a captain often show themselves away from the television cameras. The Warriors behaviour in social settings have been first-rate compared to most teams during the time Mannering has led the side. The team is often praised for work in the community and as coming across as a down-to-earth organisation, which has performed well from a commercial perspective. Could it be that Mannering has played a significant role in that?
Likewise you cannot measure the success or failure of a captain on wins and losses. Some of the best captains didn’t always have the best win/loss statistics. Stephen Fleming was a fine cricket captain – widely regarded around the world as one of the most shrewd skippers to have played the game yet his head–to-head record pales in comparison to someone like Ricky Ponting, even though Ponting’s own teammates questioned his ability as a leader. Wally Lewis didn’t enjoy much success whilst leading the Gold Coast Seagulls many years ago but I can’t imagine too many other players on that roster being a better fit as skipper.
It is very clear that the Warriors need to make changes if they are to start becoming playoff contenders but you have to figure out a better way of doing things before making a call otherwise you are taking a wild stab in the dark.
If they can improve the consistency and balance of their roster maybe the wins will come and who knows? Even a premiership. If that happens in Mannering’s time at the club, my guess is those people currently calling for his head will instead be lauding his performance as he lifts the holy grail.