RICKY STUART – SUNDAY TELEGRAPH COLUMN

TODD Carney and Mitch Pearce have the talent to be great players.

Not just good players. Great players, up there with the names that still resonate in our game, long after they have retired.

As halves, though, they must understand that to take that next step from good NRL footballers to great ones they have to become leaders.

Not in the positional sense, where as halves they call the ball and the dummy half goes looking for them.

I’m talking about leaders off the field. Until they become that they can’t become the players they are capable of becoming.

What I want to know is, do they want to be?

Talent can be a dangerous asset in anyone’s life. With talent comes an expectation for high achievement and, something that is given less thought, the commitment to fulfil that talent. Not everyone wants to make that commitment, or has the capacity to.

Not everyone wants to be a high achiever, either, and that’s fine if that is what makes you happy in life, so long as they realise that it can also bring its own sort of pressure, as people all around either express their disappointment in your decision.

Both Todd and Mitch are at the time in their lives where they have to make their decision.

And it’s fine if they don’t want to do it. It’s not for everyone.

But if they do, it starts now.

At the moment they are popular young men in the team. Their spirit is there for all to see.

They’re the first with a laugh and the last to leave whenever there’s fun to be had, and that makes them popular among their teammates.

For such reasons, their teammates are prepared to follow them wherever they take them.

But leadership is a commitment. And like any commitment, that means it is not a sometimes thing.

It is permanent and has to be lived not only on the football field, but off it.

The great ones replicate their on-field abilities off the field, refusing to take short cuts, making decisions for the group, committing to the values in life that just happen to work on the field.

I remember a story I was told about Steve Waugh, the former Test captain. It might be true, it might have grown in the telling, but I want to believe it.

Waugh was one of the boys, an integral part of the Australian cricket team and the heir apparent to replace Mark Taylor as skipper.

The moment Taylor retired and he got named captain, though, Waugh’s demeanour around the team changed.

He took a step back, figuratively, from the hi-jinks within the team. He was now the captain and selector and he was responsible for those teammates in a way he wasn’t before, and he recognised that by his actions the moment he was appointed.

That’s what I’m talking about with Todd and Mitch.

You can’t be the life of the party at the nightclub, get a little loose in your behaviour that might spark a laugh from everybody, and then expect to maintain that authority the next day on the training paddock.

They can still have their fun, but leaders recognise there is a time and a place.

I don’t know if Todd and Mitch are prepared for such a commitment yet. Sometimes, players can feel a little awkward about deliberately adjusting their behaviour. We all do, in fact.

In some wys it’s maturity. Can they recognise the point when they need to mature?

There comes a time in everybody’s life when we have to evolve.

I’d be disappointed if I was the same man at 40 as I was at 20. All that means is that I would have wasted the past 20 years.

The game is littered with good players that came into the game and, when their time came to decide between being one of the boys or to begin growing up and becoming leaders within their team, they wanted to remain one of the boys.

And that’s fine. Some players are happy with that, and no doubt they enjoyed their football. It’s also why their names are a little hard to come to mind now.

We forget about them.

But look at the ones that stepped up, like Darren Lockyer and Brad Fittler and even Mitch’s father, Wayne Pearce.

For all of them a moment came in their careers when they were given the choice to step up or not, and they made the decision based on the character of man they are.

Todd is now close to where he was when he judged to be the best payer in the competition.

Mitch played all three Origin games last year and realises himself that it’s time for the next step.

In some way their careers are at a crossroads but, this time, the choice is all theirs.

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