It’s the 24th of April 1998 and a 21 year old Darren Lockyer takes his place on the bench for Australia against New Zealand at North Harbour Stadium. 25,000 patriotic kiwi fans pack the ground to see a black and white ambush.
Newcastle’s Robbie O’Davis is picked at full-back for the clash and a baby faced Lockyer may just have been content to be selected on the bench. But you can never predict what happens next in the wonderful and twisted world of professional sport.
O’Davis is injured early in the piece and the young Brisbane prospect is thrown into the deep end. By this time, Lockyer had already represented Australian and Queensland Super League and had won the first and only Super League title with the Broncos.
All was in readiness for a brilliant debut for the boy from Roma. New Zealand had other ideas.
Matthew Ridge, Stacey Jones and the Paul brothers bombarded Lockyer with an aerial assault like no other. The windy conditions of Auckland was no place for a rookie full-back to make his mark.
But from that disastrous night in Auckland on, Lockyer has been almost perfect in every aspect of the game. As perfect as a player can be without being God.
Broncos chief executive Paul White said it best, “I think it is fair to say that we will never have another player like Darren Lockyer”.
White’s comment came at Lockyer’s retirement announcement and off course was representing his club when making the statement. But that simple seventeen word sentence can be repeated time and time again by anyone with an interest in our great game. Lockyer is simply that great.
“He has driven success here at the Broncos, has been a tremendous achiever at both club and representative level, and has been the epitome of professionalism for not only our club, but our game.
“Darren’s historical place in the very fabric of the game of rugby league is assured and he has deserved every accolade he has received.”
341 first grade games, 121 tries, 341 goals, 1185 first grade points, Clive Churchill medallist, twice Club player of the year, most games for the Broncos, most games at a single club in history, club best back four times, Dally M five-eight of the year twice, Dally M representative player of the year, 32 Origin games, captain of Queensland 18 times, 6 Origin series wins, 5 as captain, 54 tests for Australia, 33 as captain, most tries for Australia with 34, 9 World cup matches for Australia and the Golden boot winner in both 2003 and 2006.
Lockyer slices through history with trademark finesse and when time eventually gets its breath and catches up to the legend, he will be crowned the next Immortal of our game.
This coming Friday the Broncos great will lead his country for the final time in Queensland. A state which in time will grant Lockyer his own statue alongside Wally Lewis at Suncorp Stadium.
But as years often do, they pass and friday night at Skilled Park is rugby league history in the making. The final time Lockyer wears the mighty green and gold in his home state.
His reign ends with a tour of the United Kingdom at the end of the year where the game was first played way back in 1895. The perfect place to lay his playing career to rest.
There is nothing else to say. All hail the next Immortal, Darren Lockyer.