Over the years there are just some players that have come along throughout the sports long and storied history that just have this nuisance to rise to the moment and produce a performance that will still be spoken as the years go on.
If we look back over the last 25 years of rugby league and we try to nail this down to one player in particular there is seemingly little argument against the fact Darren Lockyer was that exact player. The legendary fullback turned five-eighth spent a remarkable 17 years in professional rugby league all the while producing one of the most standout CVs the great game has ever seen. So, in honour of the man himself it is that time again where we add another chapter into the in-depth series and focus on the career on one of the games true greats……
Born out of Brisbane, Queensland, Lockyer was a sought-after Roma product who like most stars from the Australian state exceled at an early age and stood out from the rest of the pack. After moving out to Roma and playing for Cities Gladiators, he made his first-grade debut at the age of just 15 and by the turn of the 1990s was already being scouted by Brisbane Broncos and legendary talent scout Cyril Connell. After tracking his progress over the next few years, Lockyer eventually drew in the attention of Broncos coach Wayne Bennet and by 1995 was offered his first playing contract for the Queensland club.
At a tender age of just 18, Lockyer made his debut during the 1995 ARL season, coming off the bench in a 60-14 thrashing of Parramatta and well the rest they say is history I suppose. Over his first couple of seasons, there was not much of a starting role for the young prodigy as he spent a great deal of time coming off the bench, behind the likes of Willie Carne in the Brisbane pecking order. However, by the 1997 season Bennet had decided to move Lockyer permanently to the fullback position upon the retirement of Carne and in the process was given the job as primary goal kicker.
It proved to be the moment and chance the youngster had been waiting for as what followed over the next couple of seasons showcased what an exceptional player he could be and was to be. A stand out Broncos side went on to claim Grand Final wins in both the 1997 Super League season and the inaugural NRL season in 1998. Over the course of both seasons, Lockyer displayed exactly what made him one of the countries finest young players with his kicking game playing a major factor over both Championship winning seasons, placing himself as Broncos top seasonal point scorer over both years. The classy five eighths displays were more then enough to earn him a spot in both the Australian and Queensland sides, making his debut in 1997 and 1998 retrospectively.
Despite missing out on a third consecutive Grand Final win in 1999, Lockyer and a still dominant Broncos team consisting of the likes Shane Webcke, Michael De Vere and Petero Civoniceva roared back in the 2000 NRL season with a third title in four years. Once again, the Aussie dynamo proving he was a man for all occasions and despite being relieved of primary goal kicking duties, his efforts knew no bounds as Brisbane clinched their fifth title and Lockyer’s third in four seasons.
By 2003, he was handed the prestigious Australian captaincy for the Kangaroos tour of Great Britain and France, the decision proving to be a great omen as he put forth a trio of masterful performances against Great Britain. A selection of displays that eventually earned him his first Golden Boot Award as the game’s best player for the year.
By 2004, Lockyer had now pretty much developed a reputation as world’s best fullback and one of the sports elite players. However, for a player who had some of the most natural and instinctive ball handling skills it was decided that a move to the halves would give the star talent more time and chances with the ball in hand.
After ten seasons in the league, developing a reputation as one of the games top talents is always bound to bring with it its fair share of critiques and Lockyer’s move to five-eighth was the perfect case for his performances to be placed under the radar. Over his first couple of seasons at the new spot, his performances at Brisbane, Queensland and Australia quickly came under fire with many suggesting it was not the right move.
But as many great competitors, leaders and champions have done in the past, the critiques were eventually quashed as Lockyer led Brisbane to another title in 2006 and once again letting everyone know why he was not just one of the world’s best but the world’s best, claiming his second Golden Boot award.
Like many before him, his later years may not have yielded as much success at club level but a roadshow final year in 2011 was to be a season filled with even more success as fittingly his last set of games saw him wear the Kangaroo jersey one more time, captaining Australia in the Four Nations and his final game coming at Elland Road fittingly against England.
By the end of his career Lockyer had made 355 appearances and scoring 122 tries for Brisbane in the process, cementing himself as a club icon. A total of 36 State of Origin games and seven series wins for Queensland alongside appearing in 59 Tests for Australia that included a World Cup win in 2000, are just the tip of a formidable iceberg of what was this man’s career.
Over the course of the modern era, the sport has seen some truly great talent grace the pitch, however, there then comes along a player who looks to redefine the way to play to the game from their respective position. For instance, when we take Australia, we can suggest the likes of Wally Lewis, Andrew Johns or Arthur Beetson, all players who from their retrospective spots on the field became three highly influential players. Now, an aspect that made Lockyer stand out exclusively from the pack was not just the fact he made one position his own but rather two, both different from the style of play needed to be a success. When Lockyer was switched over from fullback to stand off in 2003, journalist Phil Gould stated that,
“the world’s best fullback is now the world’s greatest five-eighth”.
Although a rather bold statement it just goes to show how talented he was as a rugby league player that thoughts such as this were being made. Even though throughout the course of his career his astute kicking game was pinnacle to his game, the Broncos legend’s all-round game became a true testament to his ability. A player who possessed all the knowledge and skills of what made him one of his countries greatest sporting leaders and exports. The deceptively quick pace, the silky ball handling skills and the way in which he could create opening in the oppositions line of defence all stood perfectly in a career that was seemingly carved into perfection. The best ever? Well it is certainly within the discussion.
Happy Birthday Darren Lockyer!
PREMIERSHIPS: 1997-98, 2000, 2006
KANGAROO TOURS: 2001, 2003
AUSTRALIAN CAPTAIN: 38 TESTS
CLIVE CHURCHILL MEDAL: 2000
GOLDEN BOOT AWARD: 2003, 2006
HARRY SUNDERLAND MEDAL: 2008
WALLY LEWIS MEDAL: 2006
DALLY M FULLBACK OF THE YEAR: 1998, 2001-02
DALLY M FIVE-EIGHTH OF THE YEAR 2004, 2006-07
QUEENSLAND TEAM OF THE CENTURY: 2008
NAMED IN NRL TEAM OF THE 1990S: 2003