15/04/2024

The appointment of Toby Greene as the GWS Giants’ sole captain would’ve turned heads years ago. Yet, inaugural captain Callan Ward says he’s “always seen leadership qualities” in the talented small forward.

“Especially the way he attacked training,” Ward told The Inner Sanctum.

“Just his mindset and attitude to always train really hard. There was no taking it easy if he was sore, it didn’t matter, he’d always go out as hard as he could every session.

“I think that in itself is leadership, there are some guys who might be a bit sore and just take it easy for a day or two, but Toby doesn’t have that in him. I think training and playing with a guy who has those qualities and trains the way he does feels like true leadership to me.”

Though Greene wasn’t always the battle-hardened veteran we think of now, he came into the league as a fresh-faced midfielder just looking to get his hands on the footy.

The Giants’ inaugural list was full of youth who would go on to become marquee talent. Jeremy Cameron, Dylan Shiel, and the ever-loyal Stephen Coniglio.

Though none burst onto the scene quite like Toby.

Greene debuted as an 18-year-old in round one of 2012 as the Giants were thrashed in the first edition of the Sydney Derby.

Despite the 63-point loss, Greene immediately stamped himself as a star of the future. Collecting 27 disposals against the eventual premiers. He also had a game-high 15 contested possessions against a midfield of Craig Bird, Josh Kennedy and Jude Bolton.

His performances continued through the entirety of his debut season, averaging 28 disposals and 11 disposals for the year to finish runner-up in the club’s Best and Fairest tally.

After making his way from the Western Bulldogs as a midfielder himself, Ward remembers how impressed he was to see such a young player making that much of an impact.

“Toby was an on-baller for the whole season pretty much,” he said.

“He was racking up almost 30 [disposals] every week. He was just a really consistent player for us in the midfield. The only real note we had for him at that point was his ball use going inside [forward] 50.

“Other than that, he would attack the ball, he’d try really hard, he wasn’t afraid to tackle and he’d defend really well. He was a really good player. Since then, you might look back and think that was one of his worst years because he’s been a superstar since then.”

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He was able to enjoy his second season in the midfield again, although he added the outside game to his repertoire. Finding space outside the contest and moving the ball through the chain, rather than in and under. 

Greene’s move to the forward line was initially surrounded by questions. Why move such a promising young mid from where he’s been so successful?

Though, it didn’t take long to show the impact he could have ahead of the ball, finding ways to be involved around the middle while hitting the scoreboard. He became the barometer for the Giants, when he was up and about, the team tended to do well.

When asked to expand on Toby’s leadership qualities, Ward admits he wasn’t in the immediate leadership plans. But following year after year of consistent performance, it became an inevitability.

“We probably didn’t have him in the leadership plans early on in his career,” Ward said.

“But around the end of 2016, we saw how well he was playing in the forward line and people were realising how good he was a forward line player.

“I think he was becoming one of the most controversial players in the competition, but also for us, he was almost our most important player on the ground.

“Also by that stage, I think he’d learnt a lot about how to go about it off the field and help develop the younger players. He was also starting to really enjoy working with the younger players and he became so helpful to our development.”

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Leadership manifests itself in a variety of ways, each captain finds a unique way to lead.

Each captain has their own priorities and ideas on how to best represent their club, however, Ward believes there are a select few qualities that are non-negotiable.

“I think leadership is portraying all the values that the club speaks about,” he said.

“It’s always setting the right example, doing the right things all of the time. It’s working really well with everybody around the club, not just the younger people, but the senior players and the whole playing list really as well as the staff and coaches.

“It’s being a gentleman all the time and having really good values. The leadership that I saw in Toby was a lot of the way he went about it on game day and at training. But there’s a lot about leadership that’s more involved in the off-field stuff.”

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Toby’s progression hasn’t always been linear. He’s become well acquainted with the tribunal over his career, notching up almost $30,000 in fines to go with 14 games worth of suspension.

His competitive edge sometimes caused him to cross the line, getting caught up in the moment. He walked a fine line between showing his heart on his sleeve and recklessness.

While it’s seen him in hot water more than a few times, it shows a will to win that is admirable at the least. Ward concedes that it was certainly a problem point for Greene, but it’s something he’s been committed to working on.

“There’s probably been a few times where he’s overstepped the mark a little bit,” Ward admits.

“But I put that down to his competitiveness and his loyalty to his football club and his teammates. I’ve always said he’s probably the most competitive player that I’ve played alongside.

“I always think if I ever ended up in a wrestle with someone, then I’d hate for it to be him because he never gives in. He’s a true competitor and someone that wears his heart on his sleeve, I think at times he might overstep the mark but he’s got that under control in his last couple of years.”

Toby’s change of pace over the last few years has been refreshing to watch, while Ward can’t be sure if someone ever spoke to him about the incidents. He’s happy to the new skipper has it under control and looks to be in a good place.

“I would assume that Leon had that conversation with him behind closed doors,” Ward said.

“But I haven’t spoken to Toby or Leon about that [tribunal visits]. I think you’d be silly to think you could do a leadership position at an AFL club if you keep doing the wrong thing.

“But that’s why I think he’s reigned it in, he’s in a really good spot now where he understands it was something he has to work on.”

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Greene’s promotion to co-captain last season was the first step in his public leadership role. Having always been highly rated internally, his behavioural criticisms affected whether the greater football world would understand the decision.

It was the right decision, his form inflated with the extra responsibility, and he was measured in his outbursts. He managed 37 goals for a GWS side that had issues going forward, while also being involved in several influential moments that helped carry the team through games.

It became obvious he was serious about leading the Giants, and it was a responsibility he took incredibly seriously.

“I think so, but more so, after all the voting we just couldn’t split the three of them,” Ward replied when asked if last year’s co-captaincy was Greene’s ‘trial period’.

“In their own right, they were all really good leaders and could’ve done it themselves. Our approach with the three captains was that we thought it worked for us at the time and it could’ve developed them all to potentially be sole captains.

“I guess you could say it was a trial period, but also we just thought it was the best approach for us because I think Toby’s developed into a great leader.

“You could see Toby’s always that guy who wants to step up in the big moments, he’s been that player for us for a long time. When he was a co-captain last year it looked like he did it on even more occasions.”

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After seeing the vast improvements in his form under the leadership banner, it became increasingly obvious he had control of the dressing room to run the field. He just had a few areas he needed to work on to understand the full responsibility of leading.

Despite his on-field accomplishments, there’s a wide range of tasks involved in leadership that Ward says no one really thinks about. He says there’s “much more” to captaincy than tossing the coin.

“It’s mainly relationships, giving the hard feedback, giving the right feedback and picking the right times to do it,” Ward said.

“Everybody’s always learning how to do that, it’s something that Toby’s really developed over the last year or so.

“He’s such a loyal person, he just wants everyone to get better and he cares a lot for his teammates. More and more you find him working with the younger boys and giving them feedback, doing as much as he can.

“His off-field stuff is really in shape but the other stuff is obviously away from the footy club and whether you’re doing the right thing or not. It’s amazing to see how far he’s come. He’s the ultimate professional, in how he’s always doing right for the footy club as a leader.”

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Following a big off-season, with the most significant personnel change in GWS’ history. Adam Kingsley has brought in a new mantra, a new game style, and a new leadership setup.

Greene has taken over the sole job, being rewarded by the playing group for his performance last season.

Ward was happy with the result, and he’s looking forward to seeing what he does with the opportunity.

“Toby’s the man for the job,” Ward said.

“It could’ve just as easily been Josh [Kelly] or Cogs [Stephen Coniglio] as well. The way the votes must have gone it’s gone Toby’s way.”

He also gave a reminder that just because Greene is the sole captain, doesn’t mean he’ll have to lead the team alone. Greene has a mountain of experience around him that he’ll be able to rely on in case of emergency.

“I think what’s really important for a captain, and it’s the same as when Phil and I were doing it, they need strong support,” Ward said.

“That’s what Josh and Cogs are really happy to do as well as the other boys in that group.

“To have that support around you as a captain I think is really important, Toby might need to lean on that. He’s obviously got his own strengths but he knows he’s got that support if he needs it.”

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