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banner Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 03:55 GMT
Search is on for the new Fittler
Brad Fittler quits the international arena after the three-Test series against Great Britain
Fittler bows out after the Ashes series
BBC Sport Online previews the four players leading the race to replace Brad Fittler as captain of world champions Australia.

Wanted: top-class footballer to captain the strongest rugby league side in the world.

The ideal candidate must demonstrate expertise in handling a success-loving public, a controversy-hungry media, and an administrative body prone to embarrassing gaffes.

On the surface, it would seem easy to hold the role of Kangaroo captain.

All you have to do is lead a team of superb athletes with a habit of winning everything in sight and enjoy the duty-free en route.

Gorden Tallis
Tallis is seen as the favourite
However as incumbent skipper Brad Fittler has recently discovered, it's often anything but a breeze.

Success has bred ever higher expectations of the national team's captain, both as a player and an ambassador for the code, making the imminent choice of Fittler's successor a crucial one for the game in Australia.

Fittler's recent experience highlights the challenges facing the next captain, having been exposed to the highs and lows of the role in the space of a few weeks.

A victory over the Kumuls in league-mad Papua New Guinea, where the Australians are treated like gods, was followed by the Australian Rugby League's (ARL) ill-fated decision to call off the Kangaroo tour in the wake of the US bombing of Afghanistan.

Fittler, along with a number of other senior players, had forced the ARL's hand after expressing a reluctance to travel at this time of global uncertainty.

Darren Lockyer
Lockyer steered Queensland to State of Origin win
His influence caused a number of younger players to also waver in their desire to tour and the trip was subsequently cancelled.

The captain was then called on to publicly back the ARL's decision, which he did.

When the tour was then reinstated after a passionate backlash both at home and in Great Britain over the cancellation, Fittler felt obliged to rejoin the tour but made it known he was extremely unhappy with being left to defend the original decision alone.

He has, in fact, stipulated that while in England he will not play any role in the tour's administrative decisions, will not publicly support ARL officials or their decisions and will not face the media without an ARL official to discuss security or other tour issues.

It's a worrying precedent for his successor, a position which still remains an open race, according to the Australian coach Chris Anderson.

"With Gordie [Tallis] coming back, you've probably got four quality candidates to take over from Freddie, and I think this tour's going to be important for all of them," Anderson said recently.

Andrew Johns
Johns is arguably the best player in the world
With incumbent vice-captain Gorden Tallis ruled out for most of season 2001 by a serious neck injury, Anderson's other candidates are Tallis' team-mate at the Brisbane Broncos, Darren Lockyer, the best player in the world in Andrew Johns and St George Illawarra's rising star, Trent Barrett.

Tallis is expected to resume his playing career next year and would still seem the favourite to become Australian captain.

But the quietly-spoken Lockyer is real possibility, too.

He has played brilliantly this year, captaining Queensland to a State of Origin series win in Tallis's absence and the Broncos to within one game of the NRL Grand Final after a string of losses late in the regular season.

The phenomenally talented Johns captained the Newcastle Knights to the NRL premiership but is seen by some with influence as too mischievous for the top job.

Trent Barrett
Barrett, 24, is the long-term prospect
Nevertheless, he has thrived under added responsibility at club level and his stature amongst his peers grows larger each season.

Barrett is the long-term prospect, still only 24 and still growing in confidence as a playmaker and as a leader.

He has the nous and the class, he just needs to maintain form and continue to develop.

Before too many years have passed, he and Braith Anasta are the likely leaders of the Australian team.

It's no secret rugby league is struggling at international level these days.

Whoever is appointed captain of the leading rugby league-playing nation will undoubtedly have some role to play - if only in the PR sense - in revitalising the game at internationally.

And as Fittler has discovered, that's no small burden.

Links to more Ashes Series stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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