Leadership takes many different forms at a footy club and at the Raiders in 2024 it comes in the shape of an Olympic champion and a champion of the club, both eager to play their part in delivering the Green Machine its first premiership in 30 years.
In Mal Meninga’s final game and with Ricky Stuart masterfully calling the shots in the No.7 jersey, the Raiders defeated Canterbury 36-12 in the 1994 decider to make it three titles in six years.
Two years later, one of Australia’s most loved sporting teams collected a second gold medal in eight years when the Hockeyroos beat South Korea 3-1 in the 1996 Olympic final in Atlanta.
Standing proudly on the dais that day in Georgia was Louise Dobson, just 24 at the time and doing her home town of Shepparton proud alongside superstars Alyson Annan, Rechelle Hawkes and Katrina Powell.
Injury would rob Dobson of the chance to pull on the green and gold at the Sydney 2000 Games but she returned in 2004 in Athens, capping a remarkable career in which she earned 230 caps for her country.
Just as Dobson’s stellar career was winding down, another country kid with big dreams was making his way in a different sporting arena.
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Hailing from Tamworth, Alan Tongue debuted for the Raiders in 2000 alongside club legends Laurie Daley, Brett Mullins and Jason Croker.
Across 12 seasons in the NRL, Tongue chalked up 220 games for Canberra, earning a reputation as a fierce competitor and inspirational leader.
Since hanging up the boots in 2011, Tongue has worked as a youth mentor and educator, establishing the Aspire program to rehabilitate young people and equip them with life skills to make positive choices.
In 2017 he was named the ACT Australian of the Year for his work tackling family violence, partnering with Barnardos to teach young people how to build healthy and respectful relationships.
Having achieved so much on and off the sporting field, Tongue and Dobson join forces in 2024 as part of a new leadership structure at the Raiders, who are moving into unfamiliar territory without stalwarts Jarrod Croker and Jack Wighton.
Announcing the changes in November, head coach Stuart said his priority was “assisting in challenging our players to go to another level of our values and standards as a Raider”.
"Alan and Louise have an enormous amount of experience in this area given their own sporting achievements,” he said.
"My priority is assisting in challenging our players to go to another level of our values and standards as a Raider."
In his new role as Leadership Manager, Tongue said he will be “encouraging the young blokes not just to follow but to lead”.
“We spoke about the fact that you don’t have to have all the answers but you have to be able to create those questions that empowers the playing group to come up with those answers,” he said.
“We honour and pay respect to the players who have gone before us but a big focus is on these guys making it their culture.
“I try not to talk too much about my time at the club and what I did. I’m sure it makes the connection with the players easier but it’s not my culture, it's theirs. I’m just there to help guide them.
Sometimes we can over-complicate this space – it’s about getting the standards right, owning those standards and going out and putting it into practiceAlan Tongue
When it comes to setting high standards and delivering on them, few have done it better than the Hockeyroos under the guidance of legendary coach Ric Charlesworth.
Having come from outside the Hockeyroos squad 12 months before the ’96 Olympics to savour gold medal glory, Dobson sees a great opportunity presenting itself for a new breed of Raiders to stand up.
“People think ‘how are we going to deal with this situation of losing these players’ but the opportunity for the players coming behind is massive,” said Dobson, who has taken up the role of Leadership Facilitator.
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“Ric Charlesworth made some radical changes when he took over in 1993 and the team grew very quickly and went on to become best team in the world.
“He copped a lot of criticism for bringing us all together six months before the Olympics and leaving our jobs but it was great to be part of it.
“After hockey I went into the corporate field for 10 years so to come back into high performance is something really different but it’s a great challenge.
“With a younger group coming through they wanted to put some more structure around leadership and Ricky wanted people who are in Canberra. I call past every couple of days so the players can get to know me better.
“This is their journey, we are just here to help them shape it a little bit. There’s not much between the top teams and they are all looking for that small edge.”
With Tongue employed full-time by the NRL in a community role and Dobson involved with the AOC and Youth Olympics, both have plenty on their plate but they are passionate about their roles with the Raiders and helping develop a new generation of leaders.
In his first official role back at the club since retiring, Tongue is keen to build strong connections with the players and the local community.
“I was pretty excited about the different levels to the job,” Tongue said.
“This has always been a sports psychology space but Ricky spoke about wanting people who really care about the club more than anything.
“A lot of the community work I have done is about empowering a community to overcome its challenges and come up with some actions and I have used a lot of that framework in the footy job.
“I hadn’t met Louise until we started in November but to have an Olympian to work alongside has been brilliant.
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“It’s great for the players to hear about the Olympics and Lou coming from nowhere 12 months earlier [to win gold] and we had similar scenarios with Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh in 2019.
“They were young guys who started pre-season ripping in hard and all of a sudden they found themselves in a grand final at the end of that year.
“There’s some great young forwards coming through again now who can set the tone and we encourage them to have that mindset that they don’t need to be captain to be an influential leader.
“There’s no trick shots to it – you just have to live it and breathe it every little moment because eventually it will come out on the field.”