THERE are three models of captaincy being used by AFL clubs – those with a single leader, the three clubs with two players in the role and one club with three skippers.
It is a significant position: the on-field face of a football club and the person or people charged with fronting the group and charging towards success.
But who is the next skipper at each club waiting in the wings? For some, the answer is obvious. For others, particularly at clubs with newly-appointed captains or younger current skippers, there may be some surprise candidates.
Here is AFL.com.au's look at the future captains across the competition.
Rory Sloane is in his third year in charge of the Crows – second as the sole captain. With two years remaining on his contract Sloane will turn 32 just prior to next season, but with his courage and work ethic as a player and standing within the playing group as its leader, there's no rush for a change. Tom Doedee is the standout successor. The key defender is only 24 and has just 47 career games to his name but is already a member of the club's leadership group. After an injury ravaged couple of seasons he has strung together an excellent 2021 and would likely be hitting his peak in a couple of years when the captaincy discussion is raised again. – Michael Whiting
Dayne Zorko has been at the helm for a little over three years after taking over from Dayne Beams midway through 2018. The 32-year-old has done a wonderful job in charge, overseeing Brisbane's rise to prominence and galvanising its mix of extremely young and experienced players. He's contracted for next season and there's no appetite for change at this stage. If his career comes to a halt in the next year or two – of which there's no signs it will – Harris Andrews is the obvious replacement after standing in on the odd occasion. At just 24, Andrews is perfectly placed for a long run at the top job. If Zorko continues to prosper into his mid to late 30s, young midfielder Deven Robertson could be an outsider down the track. – Michael Whiting
Co-captains Sam Docherty and Patrick Cripps are into their third season guiding Carlton. Given they're both under 28, expect them to remain in the position for at least a few more years. Beyond that, Jacob Weitering is the club's reigning best and fairest winner and acted as stand-in captain against Collingwood earlier this season. Sam Walsh was elevated into the leadership group at just 19 years of age ahead of the 2020 campaign and would also be considered a natural for the position. Both would make prime candidates to be the next skipper. Marc Murphy, Ed Curnow and Liam Jones remain in a seven-man leadership group, but all three are over 30 and might make way at year's end. Lachie Plowman is one tipped to step back into a leadership position, having previously held a similar role. – Riley Beveridge
Incumbent skipper Scott Pendlebury will miss the remainder of the season with a leg fracture and could well have captained his last game having previously raised the possibility of handing over the reins for 2022. Midfielder and current co-vice-captain Taylor Adams appears the next option in line and turns 28 in September, allowing ample time for him to see through the club's next frontier. He has oozed captaincy back to his junior days at the Geelong Falcons and has since matured as a leader with this year marking his sixth season in the Pies' leadership group. Steele Sidebottom has also held the vice-captain mantle for several years and will captain the Pies on Saturday, but along with smoky Jeremy Howe, starts next year as a 31-year-old. The Pies would likely need a younger option, unless they follow Hawthorn's lead in appointing Ben McEvoy of the same age. – Mitch Cleary
Dyson Heppell is into his fifth season as captain and turns 30 next year, so it will be interesting to see if he wants to continue in the position or hand it over for 2022. It could depend on how ready Andrew McGrath is to be Essendon’s skipper. The club views the emerging midfielder as a future captain, having been an impressive leader at school and junior level before joining Essendon and is currently its youngest leadership group member. McGrath, who has played 90 games, turns 24 next year and seems well placed. Zach Merrett has worked hard to improve his leadership, has previously captained the Bombers and after signing a six-year contract extension earlier this year the midfielder is clearly in for the long haul. The Bombers could opt for him as their next captain to give McGrath more time to settle into his career. – Callum Twomey
LADDER PREDICTOR Where will your club finish?
Nat Fyfe has been captain for five seasons now and has grown immensely as a leader of young players. The 29-year-old is considered certain to continue in the role next season with a long-term transition to young midfielder Andrew Brayshaw likely. Brayshaw, who turns 22 in November, committed to the Dockers until the end of 2025 late last year and has continued to flourish on-field this season, ranking No.1 at the club for disposals (27.9) and tackles (4.4). He was voted into the club's leadership group for the first time in 2021 and has been valued for his leadership traits since he arrived at the club via pick No.2 in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft. Learning from Fyfe as both a midfielder and a leader will have Brayshaw well prepared when the time to take over does come. – Nathan Schmook
Joel Selwood has signed on for another season and looks poised to break Stephen Kernahan's record for all-time AFL/VFL games captained next year. From there, his replacement appears an interesting decision for the Cats' hierarchy come 2023. Tom Stewart is coming with a bullet and is as highly regarded as any leader at the Cats outside of Selwood right now. Into his second campaign in the Cats' leadership group, Stewart is all-but certain to become a three-time Therabody AFL All-Australian this year and will start 2023 as a 30-year-old. Patrick Dangerfield and Mark Blicavs are the Cats' current vice-captains but will turn 33 and 32 respectively ahead of 2023. Irishman Mark O'Connor is a left-field option and has been in the club's leadership group for the past two seasons. – Mitch Cleary
The Suns have gone with co-captains Jarrod Witts and David Swallow for the past three seasons as they've looked to settle a club that was previously in a state of flux. Witts is more vocal and Swallow the 'lead by example' type, making them a nice combination. There doesn't seem a lot of urgency for change, although midfielder Touk Miller would make an ideal replacement in the next few years once the club feels its list is settled. Miller is currently a vice-captain, and at 25 years of age is entering the prime of his career and has the respect of every teammate with his peerless workrate. Full back Sam Collins would be another option. – Michael Whiting
Stephen Coniglio has had a tumultuous time as captain since taking over from Phil Davis and Callan Ward after the Giants lost the 2019 Grand Final. The new skipper was one of several Giants to struggle for form last year and was sensationally dropped for the second last match of the season, and has hardly played in 2021 after sustaining nasty injuries in round three that he is still recovering from. Toby Greene stood in as captain for 11 matches in Coniglio’s absence, driving the Giants to six wins and a draw in those games as he kicked 27 goals. Long seen as a spiritual leader at the Giants, Greene joined the leadership group at the start of 2020 and was elevated to the vice-captaincy this year so his journey from larrikin to leader is almost complete. It would be a ruthless call to take the captaincy off Coniglio after a season on the sidelines, so a return to co-captains with Greene next year might give the Giants a better blend of off-field guidance and on-field inspiration. - Martin Pegan
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The Hawks had the chance to elevate 2020 vice-captains Jaeger O'Meara and Tom Mitchell to the top gig this year but opted for Ben McEvoy who turned 32 earlier this month. But with the decision accelerated for Sam Mitchell to take the reins immediately, the captaincy conversation will be blown wide open. Do they continue with a veteran for stability or look for someone who will see the next frontier through. O'Meara and Mitchell will come into the conversation with 30-year-old Liam Shiels and Jack Gunston who turns 30 in October. Would be hard to see for next year but 22-year-old James Worpel could be a left-field option if the Hawks want to hand the baton over in 2023 given he was promoted to the leadership group for the first time this year. – Mitch Cleary
Charismatic ruckman Max Gawn has added a new element to the Melbourne captaincy since being handed the role at the start of last season. However, set to turn 30 later this year, there are a number of capable candidates ready to fill his sizeable shoes when he does step down from the position. Jack Viney is still only 27 and remains the club's vice-captain, having previously spent three seasons as its skipper between 2017-2019. Together, the pair form a small two-man leadership group. Outside of that, Steven May spent two seasons as Gold Coast's captain before crossing to Melbourne and remains a natural leader. Christian Petracca, Jake Lever, Angus Brayshaw and Adam Tomlinson are others held in high regard by Melbourne who could fill the role next. – Riley Beveridge
Now into his fifth season as captain, it appears likely the highly-respected Jack Ziebell will hand over the reins at year's end. There had been talk that Luke McDonald and Jy Simpkin could take the role of co-captains in David Noble's maiden season at North Melbourne, but both were ultimately named co-vice-captains at the start of the year. Expect them to be in prime position to share the mantle when it becomes available, having emerged as two of the brightest leaders at Arden Street. Robbie Tarrant, Ben Cunnington and Kayne Turner are also involved in a six-man leadership group. Longer-term, last year's No.3 draft pick Will Phillips is seen as one who could develop into a leader at the club. – Riley Beveridge
When it comes to nominating the successor to captain Tom Jonas, it could be a case of back to the future for Port. Jonas, 30, has been the sole captain for the past two seasons, but his co-captain in 2019 was star midfielder Ollie Wines, who has emerged this season as the standout candidate to eventually take over from Jonas. More mature, locked in for the next five years, and enjoying a career-best season, Wines is at the perfect stage in his career to lead the Power, whether it is next season or in 2023. The 26-year-old, who has been vice-captain for the past two seasons, also has young contenders emerging underneath him, with Connor Rozee and Xavier Duursma seen internally as leaders in their third seasons at the club. Defender Darcy Byrne-Jones is also in the leadership group. – Nathan Schmook
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It has been a long and illustrious run for Trent Cotchin as Richmond skipper. He was appointed in the role as a 22-year-old ahead of the 2013 season and has led the club to three premierships in a golden era. Cotchin is contracted to the end of 2022, but a discussion on his future as the Tigers' captain is likely to come over summer, with Nick Vlastuin looming as the standout next option. Richmond has opted for a streamlined leadership group in recent seasons with Jack Riewoldt his vice-captain, but Vlastuin is in the prime of his career having signed a five-year contract extension and committed his future to the Tigers. Two-time premiership winner Jack Graham has also been viewed as a potential future leader. – Callum Twomey
Elevated to co-captain this year alongside Jarryn Geary, Jack Steele will be the Saints' standalone skipper for the foreseeable future. Geary is touch-and-go to play again this year with a shoulder injury and remains unsigned for next year. While he could still receive a contract extension, it is likely Steele will go alone in 2022. Dougal Howard rocketed into co-vice-captaincy this year in his second season at RSEA Park but, like new leader Callum Wilkie, is only a couple of months younger than 25-year-old Steele. The Saints' other vice-captain Tim Membrey is a year older than Steele and would be unlikely to jump over him anytime soon. Of the younger brigade, 22-year-old Ben Paton could be one to watch, while Nick Coffield captained the Northern Knights as a junior. – Mitch Cleary
Josh Kennedy has been captain since the start of 2017 and had the job to himself until Dane Rampe and Luke Parker joined as co-captains two years later. Kennedy is 33 and has started to hand over the midfield reins so might look to also give up the captaincy later this year. Rampe is 31 and showing no signs of slowing down, while Parker will turn 29 later this year so could continue in the role for several more seasons but first needs to sign a contract extension to remain at the club. The next Swans skipper is almost certainly Callum Mills, who was elevated to the leadership group at the age of just 21, drives the highest standards and has now played 108 matches for the club he joined from the Swans Academy. Mills has made a successful move to the midfield this season so the Swans might give the 24-year-old another year to mature as an onballer before handing him the captaincy too. - Martin Pegan
Luke Shuey is in his second season as captain after a long run in the leadership group, including three seasons as vice-captain. The 31-year-old has had a nightmare run with soft tissue injuries for the past 18 months but has pushed through and is expected to continue in the role next season. When Shuey does hand over the captaincy, the Eagles have several senior leaders who could fill the role on a short-term basis. Superstar ruckman Nic Naitanui, 31, relished the captaincy in multiple games this season, while vice-captain Jeremy McGovern, 29, is the other contender from the current leadership group. The younger contenders are yet to stake their claim with official leadership roles like Shuey did, but 22-year-old Oscar Allen is seen as a strong chance to eventually captain the club. – Nathan Schmook
After signing a four-year contract extension that will take him through to 30, it is easy to see Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli maintaining the captaincy for that time as well given his leadership qualities and on-field dominance. Mitch Wallis replaced Lachie Hunter as vice-captain this season but both are older than Bontempelli. Josh Dunkley could be a contender if he remains at the Dogs long-term but one to keep a very close eye on is Bailey Smith. The young gun has not put a foot wrong since stepping into the kennel, has played every game in nearly three seasons and is seen as a future leader at the club. By the time Bontempelli's next deal is complete, Smith will be about to turn 25, and although the Dogs star could continue in the position for some time, Smith looms as a real shot as his successor. – Callum Twomey