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Hurn's leadership evolution

Travis King, AFL.com.au  June 8, 2018 9:00 AM

Shannon Hurn has been leading the Eagles by example this year

Shannon Hurn has been leading the Eagles by example this year

During pre-season, there were doubts whether Shannon Hurn would continue as West Coast captain.

The Eagles were entering a new era, and many outside the club wondered if Hurn was about to hand over to Luke Shuey and mentor the star midfielder while he found his feet as the front man for a youthful group.  

However, on January 24, the club announced Hurn been given the thumbs up to carry on. 

Eleven rounds into 2018, it's clear the right decision has been made.     

Not because Shuey couldn't have done the job, but because in his fourth season as skipper, Hurn has never looked more comfortable.  

In the wake of Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell retiring, the 30-year-old has grown in the role while also hitting career-best form.

He's led West Coast on a 10-game winning streak, and the unflappable half-back is now being mentioned as a potential All Australian captain. 

Later this year, Hurn will lead West Coast into a fourth-straight finals campaign and another shot at an elusive premiership.

While there are no guarantees of success, it is increasingly clear that the laid-back country bloke is determined to get everything possible out of his football career while making everyone around him better.

In March, Hurn signed up for David Wheadon's respected Next Coach Program and recently completed the intensive 10-week course alongside Fremantle's Lachie Neale and Lee Spurr, plus injured Power player Hamish Hartlett.  

It was a program pioneered by Eagles coach Adam Simpson during the final season of his playing career in 2009, with Melbourne mentor Simon Goodwin and West Coast assistants Mitchell, Jaymie Graham and Daniel Pratt counted as alumni.

Wheadon's course hones in on 10 topics and sets assignments on areas such as coaching philosophy, teaching skill and people management. 

At 4.30pm every Wednesday, Hurn would also log on to his computer for a two-hour group chat via video-link from Perth.

Guided by Wheadon, the group tackled a variety of scenarios, discussing positives and drawbacks from situations like publicly or privately criticising teammates or, from a coaching perspective, picking an experienced campaigner over an eager youngster.

"I don't tell them what to do. I'll throw out an idea and have a discussion about it," Wheadon told AFL.com.au

"There's no one way to do anything. They're going to find out what they want to do and be challenged and justify why they want to do it a particular way.

"This is how (four-time Richmond premiership coach) Tommy Hafey would have done it, this is how (AFL legend) Kevin Sheedy or (NFL coaching great) Vince Lombardi would have done it, which is you? 

"What they start thinking about is 'what do I really believe in?'."

With Hurn taking a more holistic approach to his football, Wheadon thought it was no surprise he is in the midst of a stellar season.

Not only is the dependable Eagle elite for metres gained and intercept marks, but his right boot is a weapon in the League's most prolific kicking team and he boasts the best disposal efficiency (87.3 per cent) of any player with more than 150 possessions this season. 

"He's having a fantastic year," Wheadon said. "That's been a common thing. A number of people who have started thinking about coaching and the big picture, they’ve become All Australian or won the best and fairest that year.

"They reckon it just makes them think about the whole thing – the training, the positioning, the people management, my teammates on the field." 

After playing alongside Hurn last season and now moving into the coach's box, Brownlow medallist Mitchell has a unique insight into the West Coast skipper. 

The former Hawthorn champion rates Hurn's football smarts and has seen him apply that knowledge more during matches.    

"He's always had a good head for footy and he always knew what was going on in the game and I think, if he wanted to go down that path, he would be quite a good coach in the future," Mitchell told AFL.com.au.

"But he's started to do that as a player now. That's become really evident.  

"He jumps on the phone now when he comes off (to the interchange bench) and says 'I think they're doing this, have we considered that?'.

"That's really outstanding for us as coaches to have players on the field doing those sorts of things."

Importantly, Hurn's enhanced macro approach doesn't mean he's overlooked the finer details – like strengthening his connections with the playing group.  

Eagles canvassed by AFL.com.au – including fellow defenders Brad Sheppard and Liam Duggan - thought Hurn had become better at getting to know what made his teammates tick. 

"I think it's just the evolution of his leadership style. He's had a lot of leadership around him but he's really got to know his players – even younger players – more than what he once had," Sheppard said.  

"He just keeps evolving every week. I know he's doing a lot of work behind the scenes on his leadership and he's got a couple of mentors outside the footy club that he always speaks to.

"He's just been great. He always sets the example at training, he's big on preparation and what you put in is what you get out and he's been the first to lead by example on the track.  

"He just works hard and it's good to see him playing well because I've played a lot of footy with him down back and us back six or seven have had a lot of experience together."

Emerging leader Duggan, touted as a future West Coast captain, has watched Hurn's development as skipper up close.

"I think this year he's got his head around it now," Duggan said.

"The best thing about 'Bunga' is he does it his way and everyone loves that.

"He's a great bloke to have down there to follow. He's been a great connector for the boys this year and his form has really shone through." 

While there are a multitude of reasons for West Coast's resurgence in 2018, having a strong leader shouldn't be overlooked.

Wheadon holds the view an influential captain is critical to success and references a personal favourite book Captain Class, an investigation of the world's greatest teams by Wall St Journal scribe Sam Walker.  

"He (Walker) said 'what are the common denominators in all of this?'. It turned out to be the captain, who was never the best player – but a good player – whose job was to support everybody else," Wheadon said. 

"(They are) often very quiet, nearly a loner, would stand up to the coach, the committee, pull his other players into line.

"If you think about it, you think of Tom Harley, Jarrad McVeigh, Nick Maxwell, Darren Glass, those type of people, and Shannon Hurn fits that perfectly. 

"Shannon hasn't won anything yet, but he fits the image, the model for that captain."