Stephen Crichton in action for NSW.
Blues' Stephen Crichton has taken his game up a level this season after moving to Canterbury. Image by Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Crichton stands out from pack to be on cusp of history

June 23, 2024

Stephen Crichton’s desire to stand out from the pack and become a big-moment player every week at Canterbury has put him on the cusp of being the youngest Dally M captain of the year since 1980.

Crichton will move from left centre to right as NSW fight to keep the State of Origin series alive at the MCG on Wednesday night.

Enjoying a standout season at club level, the 23-year-old is one of the form players since leaving three-time premiers Penrith.

An all-star team of Panthers forced out by the salary cap in recent years would likely make the NRL’s top eight – maybe even the top four.

But of the 26 players to have left Penrith in the past four years, few have been able to replicate their Panthers form elsewhere.

And only a very small number have actually improved.

Stephen Crichton celebrates a try for the Bulldogs.
 Stephen Crichton (right) has led from the front for the Bulldogs this season. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Api Koroisau has been a shining light at Wests Tigers for the past 18 months, although he remains on track for a second straight wooden spoon at Concord.

J’maine Hopgood has become a Queensland Origin player at Parramatta, after never really having the chance to show his skills at Penrith, while Viliame Kikau has made an impact at Canterbury despite injury trouble.

But Crichton has gone from a big-game player at Penrith to potentially Canterbury’s most influential purchase since James Graham in 2011.

Asked by AAP whether Crichton was the shining light among the NRL’s former Panthers players, Penrith winger Brian To’o answered: “100 per cent”.

“He’s pretty much shown them what it’s like to be in a winning space, leading from the front,” To’o said.

Blues coach Michael Maguire has noticed it too.

Crichton was quietly elevated to NSW’s leadership group this week, joining his former Penrith captain Isaah Yeo as one of the state’s senior players.

In his first year at Belmore, Crichton is on track to become the NRL’s youngest Dally M captain of the year since Royce Ayliffe in 1980.

Such an achievement would be quite a feat for Crichton, who is the first to admit that taking on the captaincy at Canterbury put him well out of his comfort zone.

Stephen Crichton.
 Stephen Crichton, pictured at Blues training this week, has been elevated to NSW’s leadership group. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

“I haven’t always been a big speaker in front of people,” he said.

“But I took that upon myself when I made the move to Dogs.

“There are a lot of players out there looking at me to lead. I had to come out of my comfort zone and walk towards it.

“I’ve had to be out there even more being the club captain, and earn the boys’ trust.

“I always left it for other big players to do the big plays (at Penrith). I would just sit back and hope it happened.

“But this year, I’ve got to be that player that the boys are looking at.

“I’ve been trying to teach our young boys that we don’t just rely on one player. It’s a whole squad thing.

“Going into games, that’s the goals that I write – just to be in the game.

“Every time I’ve been in the game with that right mindset we’ve played very well.”

Crichton’s rise has not come as a surprise to the Bulldogs.

Canterbury coach Cameron Ciraldo was an assistant at Penrith, and one of the chief reasons Crichton made the switch to Belmore.

“It’s just the person he is. Until the day he finishes his career he will walk into the facilities and want to get better every day,” Ciraldo said of Crichton.

“The potential is limitless with him.”