THIS writer’s final image of Darren Lockyer won’t be the same as yours.
It won’t be his 79thminute try in the Four Nations final, when his own kick ricocheted off the goalpost pads and back into his arms as if propelled by an ancient, invisible force.
It certainly won’t be his hilarious attempt at conversion or even the standing ovation the 34-year-old received as he walked out of the media suite at Elland Road after his last media conference.
My voice recorder shows it was 10.10pm – ten minutes after the Australians had been officially evicted by stadium management – that I encountered Lockyer in the corridor outside the green-and-gold dressingroom.
He was still in his shorts. And he was being interviewed by a young radio reporter he had never met before, carefully considering each question before giving detailed, informative answers.
It was the Australian media manager who had earlier said Lockyer was not giving one-on-one interviews. Turning down such requests had never been the Roma boy’s style – and it wasn’t on the very last night of his career, either.
Lockyer’s omnipresence in the rugby league media presents a unique challenge to the writer of this, perhaps – only perhaps – the final tribute to one of the greatest careers in our game’s 116-year history.
Sure, I have many memories from Lockyer’s time in the spotlight – from his disastrous Test debut to him being afforded a guard of honour at the end of his record breaking club game in Townsville only to be greeted at the end of the tunnel on live television by a very scruffy looking … me.
But it’s all been written, hasn’t it? He’s answered every question, delved into every area of his life, canvassed every strength and weakness in detail.
Not according to his biographer, journalist Dan Koch.
I remember Kochy mentioning before the book, “Darren Lockyer”, came out in August that he was surprised at the things the daily media chose to highlight from the tome, and just as stunned at what it completely ignored.
So, with the much-appreciated help of Dan, Rugby League World presents: Seven Things You Actually May Not Know About Darren Lockyer:
1. A PHIL GOULD NEWSPAPER COLUMN IN 2006 CHANGED THE COURSE OF HIS CAREER
Lockyer writes: “Maybe it was fate that led me to break my sports section ban on the same day Gus’ piece ran. Hand on heart, I came across the article by chance but can look back now and say I am glad I did. The personal criticism forced me to take stock and re-evaluate exactly where I was at in my playing career. It sat me back on my arse a bit and forced me to start working a bit harder to get things right.
“If there is a deficiency in your game one thing I can guarantee you is that it won’t fix itself. If you ignore it and aren’t prepared to put in extra work to address things it will forever be a flaw opponents will identify and exploit. If you are going through periods where you are falling off tackles or your passing isn’t as crisp or accurate as it needs to be, you just stay behind after the rest of training has finished and you go to work.
“I know I have had a few weeks over the course of my career when I have defended poorly and every day I would stay behind to do extra defensive work with Ryano (Peter Ryan) or Tunza (Tonie Carroll). Hoping and praying things will work themselves out won’t change anything.
“I have never worked harder preparing for a game than I did for the second and third Origin matches in 2006. I have never been more focussed nor as driven to win as I was during that six week period.
“The pressure and intensity of those weeks was unlike anything I had ever encountered and nothing has matched it in the years since.”
2. LOCKYER GOT UP FOR A RUN AT 5.10AM FOR THE LAST WEEK OF HIS CAREER – BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT HE HAS ALWAYS DONE
He explains: “When you are taken out of your comfort zone and made to do things you don’t want to do … . there is a reason boxers get up and run at the crack of dawn and it is not because they like to watch the sunrise, it is because on those cold mornings when everyone else is in their warm beds, they are out working,” he wrote. “It is the same reason I make myself up at 5.10 every morning, because discipline and routine build mental toughness.”
3. AROUND 2004, LOCKYER HAD BECOME A ‘GOOD TIME CHARLIE’ AND NOW ADMITS HE WASN’T TRYING HIS BEST
“It would be fair to say when I was honest enough to hold up a mirror, I wasn’t entirely happy with the reflection,” he wrote. “There’s no doubt for part of 2004 and for most of 2005, I wasn’t getting the best out of myself. I certainly wasn’t doing everything I could for the teams in which I was playing. I was Queensland and Australian captain and I think I fell into the trap of believing I no longer needed to do the sort of work I had done early in my career. I was performing at an Australian level but in reality, that was probably the easiest of the three levels simply because of the quality of players around me. I didn’t have to take responsibility for other blokes. I could cruise through just worrying about myself and looking good doing it.
“I had just allowed my head to get filled with a lot of shit and needed a reality check to bring me back down to Earth.
“I guess it isn’t a big surprise that this period of instability came just after I split with my girlfriend of seven years, Sasha … when the time came that I was unattached, I guess I got carried away with the idea of having no one to answer to but myself. A lot of other things in my life suffered in my quest for a “good time”. My priorities got all mixed up. The losses in Origin in 2004 and 2005, the Broncos poor finals efforts…they hurt, sure.
“But I know now, they didn’t hurt enough.”
4. WAYNE BENNETT BELIEVES BRISBANE’S FAILURE TO SIGN BRETT KIMMORLEY IN THE MID 2000s COST LOCKYER MORE SILVERWARE
“When we missed out on signing Brett Kimmorley we missed two or three premierships,” Bennett is quoted as saying. “I say that without hesitation. We desperately needed a player who could play to Locky. There are certain players who are at their best when they have their hands on the ball every other play. That isn’t Locky. He isn’t at his best when he takes on too much responsibility.“
5. LOCKYER WAS NOT ALWAYS PATIENT AND COMPOSED – HE LEARNED THOSE QUALITIES FROM BRAD FITTLER AND ANDREW JOHNS
Wayne Bennett: “When he started going away on Kangaroos tours and spending time with Fittler and Johns and talking with them about the game, he started to learn about structure and about being patient. He’d watch those guys and study them – the way they moved around the training field. The way they moved the ball into the field position they wanted before demanding it. Locky is a wonderful observer. He watched all this and started to bring it back with him to the Broncos and worked on adding it to his game.
“All of a sudden then we had this guy who could take the moment by the scruff of the neck, but was equally comfortably sitting back and waiting patiently, just trading set after set because the moment wasn’t there - happy building a platform slowly, knowing the try that will break the game open will come from that platform.”
6. THE FIRST TIME LOCKYER PLAYED AGAINST HIS SUCCESSOR AS AUSTRALIAN CAPTAIN, CAMERON SMITH, HE RAN STRAIGHT PAST HIM TO SCORE A TRY
Cameron Smith: “It was during a Sevens tournament in the pre-season of 2003. I had just joined the Storm’s first grade squad – the modified rules tournament was my first taste of top flight rugby league. Well…Locky certainly ensured it was a less than perfect start. We were drawn to play Brisbane early on and I still have vivid memories of finding myself isolated on the left edge, one on one with the great man.
“The bloke had been my idol for the better part of a decade, so I was keen to make a good impression. Locky took a long cut out pass on his chest. Just before he took off, he glanced up and looked straight at my eyes. I reckon I would have resembled a baby deer caught in the headlights. In 03, Locky was probably the pre-eminent athlete in the game, so I decided against rushing him and simply allowing him to use his fancy footwork to make me look like a fool. I don’t know what I was thinking holding my distance almost inviting him to come to me. Locky could hardly believe his luck. He just went bang!..and just took off towards the touchline. Without slowing even a little, he straightened and was past me, on his way to the tryline before I knew what had happened.
“I had never had anyone do that to me…not even in under eights mod league”
7. LOCKYER WILL BE A PROPERTY DEVELOPER, AN ASSISTANT STATE OF ORIGIN COACH AND A FRONT MAN FOR INTERNATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE IN RETIREMENT
He told this reporter: “International rugby league has a fair way to go and if I can help in the process of that reaching its potential, then I’m keen to be involved.”
In his book, he wrote: “Given my nature, it probably comes as no surprise that property development is something which I both enjoy and believe in. To me it is a bit like a puzzle. You need to go out and find a site that fits your requirements. To do that you need a bit of vision. You need to see through what might be in front of you and be able to see what it could be. I currently have three different properties I am planning to develop, but I am in no hurry.
“I am not out to make $100 million…I never have been. I just want to be happy knowing I am doing something worthwhile with my time.
“I cringe when I hear my name put anywhere near those of Lewis, Langer, Miles and Meninga. Those blokes are the true icons of Origin and their contribution through those early years will never be equalled. I am just proud to have played a small part in the rejuvenation of the Mighty Maroons. While I will take a break from football in 2012, I intend to offer Mal any assistance he needs.”
THANKYOU AND GOODNIGHT
THIS is the very last interview Darren Lockyer did as a rugby league player. It won’t win a Pulitzer and included only three questions.
The transcript is included merely for posterity.
Steve Mascord: Two things … talk us through the goal and how worried you were about all the guys being crook (ill) before the game and injured.
Darren Lockyer: “I wouldn’t say I was worried about the guys being injured and crook. It was more … I think we were always determined, no matter what happened, 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 were ready for that.”
SM: And the goal….
DL: “Yeah mate, I haven’t done any goal-kicking practice for a while and it told. I’ve kicked plenty of goals over my years but that one just didn’t work.”
SM: One memory from tonight and I’ll leave you in peace.
DL: “One memory? It’s hard to pinpoint one but I think … I remember when we ran out and the national anthems for both countries were being sung, I’ve never seen that many England flags just waving, you know? I’ve played here a few times and that’s probably the best atmosphere I’ve experienced here at Elland Road. So it was a great, great night.”
THE MASTER’S APPRENTICE
AN innate ability to be in the right place at the right time.
It was on show in the final game of Darren Lockyer’s club career, when he kicked the winning field goal for Brisbane against St George Illawarra.
And it was there again on November 19 when he was there to regather his own kick off the right upright at Elland Road and dive over.
“He opitomises patience on the football field,” said the man who will replace him as skipper, Australia hooker Cameron Smith.
“He’s just got the smarts to know where to be on the field. He came up with some big plays to get us back on top in the match. It’s just his composure and his ability to turn up at the right time when a team needs it.
“That’s what makes a great leader. It doesn’t matter what the situation is in the game … he comes up with the right play every time. That’s what’s made him the player he is, a champion of our game.
“I think he knows how we feed about him and what he’s done for all of us and everyone back home.
“He was my hero. Growing up in Brissy as a kid, he was one of my idols. I wanted to be like Darren Lockyer and now I’ve played in a Four Nations final in his last match ever. It’s a very proud moment for me. I’m sure all the other boys feel privileged to be part of his last game and hopefully it’s a lasting memory for him.”
Lockyer did his best to make the 30-8 win over England about everyone but himself.
“We didn’t speak about (his farewell) all week until (before kick-off) when we watched a bit of vision of him playing for Australian when he was a bit younger and had a bit of hair and you could actually hear him when he spoke,” laughed Smith.
‘Everyone knew what this occasion meant to him and what it meant to us to be playing in his last game and I’m just so happy for him that he gets to finish as a winner.
“If I’m given the job, I’d be delighted with that. There’s a lot of guys in there who could fill the role of captain of this team. I’d be very proud to have the ‘c’ next to my name. If I can do the job as well as Darren, I’d be very happy with that. “
- STEVE MASCORD
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD