By STEVE MASCORD
INJURY and illness tore through Australia’s Four Nations camp before yesterday’s final against England but captain Darren Lockyer was never concerned the chaos would ruin what turned out a momentous and fateful farewell for the record-breaking five-eighth.
In his last game of rugby league, Lockyer scored a 79th minute try from his own kick and then wrote a final, off-beat chapter in his incredible story by comically spraying the conversion attempt from almost in front. The 30-8 win went some way to restoring Australia’s hard-won status as the game’s top nation.
But as the players filed out of Elland Road, a story emerged of Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston playing with groin injuries that would have ruled them out of most other matches and of others including Keith Galloway and Greg Inglis being isolated the night before the Leeds decider with violent vomiting and diahrea.
Centre Chris Lawrence said he was only sure who would be playing alongside him when the on-field warm-up finished but Lockyer, the most capped club, state and Test player in his country, toldthe Australian in possibly his last interview as a player: “We were always determined we had everything covered
“It was a good thing that JT and Matt Scott got through their fitness tests this morning and GI was right. I guess that boosted the confidence of the team.
“But at the same time, if they weren’t going to be there, we’d be ready for that.”
Team doctor Dave Givney outlined the terrible build-up, which Australia led just 8-6 at halftime before Jharal Yow Yeh, Inglis, man of the match Thurston and finally the captain consigned the English to a 40th consecutive year without a series win against the green and gold.
“Half the team were in doubt today,” Givney said. “That’s why we had 21 people warm-up.
“I’ve completely run out of my gastro medication. We had five or six of them in single rooms overnight, all throwing up. They all came good.
“Matt Scott and JT … they both had fitness tests at 11 o’clock this morning. If we were in ordinary club-land, neither of those guys would have played. “
Two contentious decisions from video referee Ian Smith helped keep England, who made one clean break all night, in the game. The first was to disallow Wests Tigers’ Lawrence a try when Sam Tomkins fumbled.
The second was to give England winger Ryan Hall a penalty try after man of the match Thurston took him high in what the North Queensland half called “a love tap”.
Prop Paul Gallen said: “We never got the team all together once (at training last week). Early on was the two centres, then it was JT and Matty Scott, and also a couple of boys were sick yesterday. We never knew the final team until lunch today.”
Lawrence added: “We had a talk last night about: whoever happened to be playing, whatever it was, there was going to be no excuses. We were going to get the job done.”
Coach Sheens organised a video montage to the pop song “Can’t Do It Without You”, by Irving Berlin, in honour of Lockyer, which he showed to the players on match eve.
Lockyer said his try was “the footy gods smiling. The ball hit the posts. It popped up for me. It was a nice way to finish”. Asked about the ensuing kick that is going to be legendary, Lockyer said: “I haven’t done any goal-kicking practice for a while and it told.
“I’ve kicked plenty of goals over the years but that one didn’t work.”
His successor as Australia captain, Cameron Smith, said the try was “like fate”. The conversion, though, was “probably one of the worst kicks I’ve seen him kick” but “Locky won’t be remembered for that kick”.
So what will Lockyer remember his final night for? “One memory?” he mused “I remember when we ran out and the national anthems for both countries were being sung, I’ve never seen that many England flags, you know, just waving.
“I’ve played here a few times and that’s probably the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at Elland Road.
“So it was a great night.”
AUSTRALIA 30 (Johnathan Thurston, Darren Lockyer, Jharal Yow Yeh, Sam Thaiday, Greg Inglis tries; Thurston 5 goals) beat ENGLAND 8 (Ryan Hall try; Kevin Sinfield 2 goals) at Elland Road. Crowd: 34,174. Referee: Matt Cecchin (Australia).
Filed for: THE AUSTRALIAN
Final team lists:
ENGLAND: Sam Tomkins (Wigan); Ryan Hall (Leeds), Jack Reed (Brisbane), Kirk Yeaman (Hull), Tom Briscoe (Hull); Kevin Sinfield (Leeds), Rangi Chase (Castleford); Ben Westwood (Warrington), Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers), Jon Wilkin (St Helens), Jamie Peacock (capt, Leeds), James Roby (St Helens), James Graham (St Helens).
Reserves: Gareth Widdop (Melbourne), Adrian Morley (Warrington), Jamie Jones-Buchanan (Leeds), Garreth Carvell (Warrington).
AUSTRALIA: Darius Boyd (St George Illawarra); Akuila Uate (Newcastle), Greg Inglis (South Sydney), Chris Lawrence (Wests Tigers), Jharal Yow Yeh (Brisbane); Darren Lockyer (capt, Brisbane), Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland); Paul Gallen (Cronulla), Sam Thaiday (Brisbane), Luke Lewis (Penrith), Matt Scott (North Queensland), Cameron Smith (Melbourne), David Shillington (Canberra)
Reserves: Cooper Cronk (Melbourne), Keith Galloway (Wests Tigers), Tony Williams (Manly), Anthony Watmough (Manly).
Referee: Matt Cecchin. Video referee: Ian Smith. Halftime: Australia 8-6.