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After turning his back on a possible AFL career, Stephen Crichton is now being touted as a future NSW Blues captain as he prepares for Wednesday night’s State of Origin at the MCG.

Crichton has already proven himself one of the superstars of the game at club and international level, but he is now also being recognised for his leadership qualities.

After taking over the captaincy at the Bulldogs this season, he has been promoted to the Blues leadership group by NSW coach Michael Maguire for Origin II.

Yet the 23-year-old could have been lost to the NRL after trialling with GWS Giants as a teenager, while he was also a talented basketballer and contemplated a US college scholarship.

Stephen Crichton and Latrell Mitchell are set to form a lethal NSW centre pairing.
Stephen Crichton and Latrell Mitchell are set to form a lethal NSW centre pairing. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

He still plays basketball socially, but rugby league won the battle for his sporting talents, despite Crichton’s mum, Sina, initially being keen for him to stick with AFL.

“I played heaps of AFL in primary school and leading into Year 7. I also played a lot through high school,” Crichton said. “I just fell away from it for a bit, and I fell in love with footy.”

As he runs onto the MCG for the first time on Wednesday night, there will be no thoughts of “what if” as Crichton is firmly focused on helping the Blues level the Origin series after finally cementing a centre spot this season.

He also refuses to consider the possibility of captaining NSW in the future – a feat which would make Crichton the first overseas-born player to do so in the Origin era and the first since Canterbury great George Peponis in 1979.

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“I’m just a massive believer in living in the moment and being present in what I'm doing right now, and if that comes down the track then it would be massive for myself and my family,” Crichton said.

“My family is everything to me. From the beginning, they've been there and all the way up until now, so everything I do is to make them proud.

“I think Origin right now is the only jersey that you have your name on your back so it's very special to run out there, especially in the highest arena in the game.

“Being named captain of NSW would be pretty cool but being captain of the ‘Dogs right now is a massive thing for myself and I’m trying to transition into that, as well.”

Before Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo appointed his star recruit as captain, Crichton had never skippered a team and despite the ease with which he appears to have taken to the role he is not a natural born leader.

Crichton learned from Panthers co-captain Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo during his three premiership winning seasons at Penrith, as well as other former team-mates such as Kiwis captain James Fisher-Harris and Wests Tigers skipper Api Koroisau.

However, Samoa mentor and Panthers assistant coach Ben Gardiner believes Crichton's parents, Va'a and Sina, have had the greatest influence on his captaincy style.

Crichton puts Samoa in the final!

"People who are good leaders generally learn leadership from their family and they then take that and apply it to the work they are doing," Gardiner said.

"Just in my small interactions with his family, they are very strong people, they speak well, understand what they want and what they value, and that is the way Critta goes about his business.

"I definitely think that when Critta went to the Bulldogs they bought him to be the cultural architect based on what Cameron had seen in him during his time at Penrith [as assistant coach].

"Although he wasn't the captain of the team, he was always highly valued leading his edge. He has always taken great interest in whether the group he is leading is successful or unsuccessful and he is able to make adjustments.

"That is a great view for a great leader because things aren't always perfect and if they aren't he is willing to assess and adapt."

A recent example was how Crichton called in Bulldogs fullback Connor Tracey and winger Blake Wilson during a stoppage in the Kings Birthday match against Parramatta to outline a plan to attack the Eels' left edge defence.

Canterbury were trailing 18-16 but won 22-18 after Wilson scored a late try.

“I haven't always been a big speaker in front of people, but I kind of took it upon myself when I made the move to the 'Dogs," Crichton said.

"There's a lot of players there that are looking at me to lead because of my experiences so I had to come out of my comfort zone and kind of walk towards it.

"I just put myself out there a bit more and talked to the boys a lot more."

While Crichton leads by example on the field, he has also adapted the advice of Koroisau to "never lose your nine-year-old self", and he has developed a series of personalised handshakes for every team-mate.

Captain Crichton leads Bulldogs to a win

"I just try to build that connection with the boys to earn their trust, especially going into a new club," Crichton said.

“Even when the younger 20s boys come up, I try to make them feel comfortable. That’s what I learned at Penrith, and I know how nerve-racking it can be.

"Having a club captain shake your hand can make them feel comfortable. That was kind of where the leadership stuff started.

"I'm trying to teach our young boys that we don't just rely on one player, it's for the whole squad to do and just trying to get that message across that we're all in it together."

Former Panthers team-mate Jarome Luai, who plays with Crichton in the NSW and Samoa teams, said the effort he had put into developing the handshakes showed how seriously he was taking the leadership role. 

"He is a born leader, and it is very natural for him. He is just being himself and everyone gravitates towards him," Luai said.

"He is a special player, but I think what is even more impressive is that he wants to do it, and dudes just follow."

Inside Camp: Stephen Crichton

Penrith and NSW second-rower Liam Martin said Crichton was the "ultimate professional" and had always displayed leadership skills, even at a young age.

"He just puts in countless hours to perfect his craft, whether that is doing video or doing reps out on the field," Martin said. "He is always the first one in and the last one out, and his footy IQ is pretty remarkable."

"People probably think he is just a larrikin, but he is always one to work the hardest. He is athletic and talented, but he also works super hard on his skills, so he has earned it, and he is probably the best centre in the game now."  

Acknowledgement of Country

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs respect and honour the Darug and Eora nations, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.