The words ‘great, icon and legend’ are thrown about far too easily these days regarding sports personalities. However Darren Lockyer undoubtedly belongs in this category, as a man synonymous with rugby league, who is sadly barely recognized outside of his sport.
The extent of his service to the game of Rugby League can be seen in his 355 appearances for his only club the Brisbane Broncos, 36 appearances at State of Origin in which he won 8 of the series he played in, and 55 caps for the Australian national rugby league team. I have left out his list of personal awards simply because it would be too long, but for those of you who have never heard of ‘Locky’ you’re starting to get the picture.
It was clear from his first game that Lockyer would be a star; a 60-14 annihilation of Parramatta in 1995 showed the world a glimpse of the man who would become the king of his sport. His diminutive size belied a speed of thought and mind that few have ever possessed on a rugby pitch. He did not just do things; he did them perfectly. Wayne Bennett, a man who is to Rugby League coaching what Ferguson is to football, spotted Lockyer’s instinctive vision and moved him to fullback, thus allowing him to stay out of the defensive firing line and instead inject himself into the attacking plays and cause carnage in opposition defences. It worked. Lockyer smashed the points records again and again in his younger years and in the process helped the Broncos to four Premiership titles.
In 2004 came the move that would take him from a superstar to, and I whisper these words for fear of angering Wally Lewis and Andrew Johns fans, an immortal. The boy from Roma in West Queensland with the slight build and the soft spoken husky voice (a result of a broken bone in his larynx) transformed into the global icon we in rugby league know today. Lockyer moved from fullback to five eighth (fly half for all you union lovers) and took over the captaincy of the Australian National team from the hard-hitting Gordon Tallis. Despite an initially shaky start at standoff, Lockyer began to show the beautiful touches and eye for space he had shown at fullback. He broke Queensland’s losing duck in the 2006 State of Origin series and won the player of the series medal at the same time. Since then he has captained every team he has played for and has been part of the Queensland team that has monopolised the State of Origin series and does not look like losing its epic and record-smashing winning record.
To watch Lockyer on the pitch was to watch the personification of the words, cool, calm and collected. The man always had time to make that perfect pass or slip a half-tackle. In both league and union people talk about a solid standoff or a mercurial one. The truth is that Lockyer was both. He provided a rock like solidity in every team he played for, and yet he had a knack of picking the right moment to explode into life.
There have been and will be many great names in this sport; Lewis, Johns, Thurston, Slater, Offiah, Wiki and many more. They were great a lot of the time, but, ‘Locky’ was great all the time, an icon, a stand-alone monument of what it means to be a professional sports personality. Caps off to the passing of an immortal, ‘Locky’ we are fortunate to have been blessed with your presence on the rugby field.