When Nick Maxwell was on the rookie list at Collingwood, seven short years ago, his then captain immediately noticed the kid from Geelong who seemed to have plenty to say.Nathan Buckley has been around football clubs long enough to know that there are blokes who want to lead and blokes who follow. In Maxwell, he saw the first of the two categories. ”I reckon he’s always been a leader,” said Buckley during the week. ”Even back then, he’d be organising blokes for social functions, making sure blokes were doing the right thing.”Hence, when Scott Burns retired at the end of 2008 and Collingwood needed another captain, Buckley was a strong advocate of Nick Maxwell’s credentials for the job, albeit from a distance. Outside the club there were doubts; in the inner sanctum, the self-made player was a walk-up start. As a player, Maxwell has had to work for everything. But as a leader, he is Mr Natural.At 2pm today at the MCG, he will trot into the centre to toss a coin and shake hands with Chris Judd, Carlton’s inspirational captain and champion of the game. Judd was destined to captain an AFL club from the time he was a teenager, though the journey has been strewn with difficulties.As a self-confessed introvert, Judd has struggled with aspects of the captaincy that was first thrust on him at West Coast when Ben Cousins imploded. When he lifted the premiership cup in 2006, he had to share the podium with Cousins who appeared intent on thumbing his nose at the world with his whirling dervish act. At Carlton, people let Judd down, notably Brendan Fevola. Critics took potshots at him for failing to control the actions of others, and some of the mud stuck.While Judd has always had the fallback position of performing heroics on the field – witness his game against Geelong last Monday – he is yet to win unequivocal public acclaim as a captain.The one thing today’s captains at the MCG have in common is that they are profoundly important to their teams.Aside from his leadership, Maxwell is now an all-Australian defender, a lightning rod for his team. Matthew Lloyd, the former Essendon captain, sees Collingwood developing in Maxwell’s image.”The way the team plays signifies what Nick’s about, I reckon,” said Lloyd. ”They don’t rely on any one individual, they all contribute. There’s nothing lairy about them. They do everything right, which is how you’d describe Nick Maxwell’s game. Also, they’re very strong and hard.”Improvement as a player has been pivotal to Maxwell’s success as a captain. Even his supporters at Collingwood would admit to some surprise that the upward curve was so dramatic.”I’ve always loved the way he’s gone about it,” said Buckley. ”I mean, he was always going to get the best out of himself.”There’s plenty of ways to judge an individual’s contribution to a footy club. First and foremost is their ability to play the game, and he’s improved that, probably exponentially, really. He’s gone from being a role player, worked on his game to the point where he’s a weapon for us now. You wouldn’t have said that three years ago, but he’s done that.”Unlike Judd, Maxwell was not a champion junior. He played for St Joseph’s College in Geelong and for Geelong Falcons in the TAC Cup, but was scarcely noticed. He did not play for Victoria, and in his final year, osteitis pubis stopped him from finishing the season.He would not be drafted; not even rookie-listed.”He was a good player; I wouldn’t say he was an outstanding player,” recalls Michael Turner, the Falcons’ regional manager and former Geelong captain. ”But at the same time, he worked really hard.”Turner believes it is attitude that set Maxwell apart from any other rejected player. ”I remember when he was finishing with us, he needed a car, and he went ‘bang’ and bought a [Mitsubishi] Magna. He paid $18,000 cash and he’d saved it up. He always had a job, even when he didn’t need to. That’s the type of person he is.”Maxwell went to Ballarat University, played for North Ballarat in the VFL, and soon found himself at Collingwood. ”The thing that has driven Nick Maxwell and got him to where he is now is attitude,” said Turner. ”He’s very determined, very organised; he gets the best out of himself. That’s why he was a good pick as captain. He’s a good decision-maker … Athletically, he’s improved a lot. And as captain, he’s gone to another level. Being captain of such a big club, it’s never bothered him or overwhelmed him.”As for Judd, Lloyd believes he is growing into the role after the Fevola debacle and the infamous ”booze cruise” during the off-season.”One of the points I made is that if he’s not a vocal leader, he needs to become one,” said Lloyd. ”If they feel there’s a cultural problem at Carlton, he has to.”Buckley also admires Judd from afar.”There’s no doubt those players walk taller when he’s out on the field,” he said. ”Drawing a line from that, you’d have to say Judd’s pushing the right buttons at Carlton.”