This correspondent would like to start this article with a disclaimer: I’m not going to even try to be even handed here, because who could be at a time like this? After all, I’ve been assigned to pen a tribute to the great Darren Lockyer, a rugby league legend who, when he runs out at Dairy Farmers Stadium against the Cowboys this Friday for his 350th game, will surpass Terry Lamb and Steve Menzies as the most capped Australian rugby league player in the history of the game.
Listing his achievements in terms of statistics could take all day and would ignore the amazing quality and consistency of his play and leadership throughout his decorated career. It is due to this quality that I decided years ago that I would name my first child (regardless of sex) Darren, in homage to the great man. While this stance may ironically prevent me from having children – and, on the chance I have an accepting partner willing to name her daughter Darren, would make life difficult for the young girl –it is something that I feel passionately about; it’s one small way that I can pay tribute to the man who surely must be named a rugby league Immortal.
Debate over who should be inducted as the next Immortal is raged over the past few years as pundits compare the careers of two great players, one from north of the Tweed and the other from New South Wales’ industrial heartland, Newcastle. The pair has been compared almost as many times as XXXX Bitter and Tooheys New – and, indeed, the argument may never be settled. [Ed: Tooheys New is better, but really, both suck.]
Johns’ backers point to his three Dally M awards (an award started by News Limited and voted on largely by the “rats” and “filth” in the NSW media, as well as many of Johns’ close mates and family members who went on to enjoy illustrious media careers), his successful State of Origin career (well, really just two games in 2005… and less so the games where he was forced to play out of position to accommodate more dependable players such as Geoff Toovey and Brett Kimmorley), and his 1997 and 2001 premierships with the Newcastle Knights (although, let’s face it, 1997 was during the Super League war, which meant that the Knights did not have to face the mighty Brisbane Broncos that season, fronted by the incomparable Darren Lockyer). These sycophants are less likely to remember his frequent on-field dummy spits, that racist outburst which caused Timana Tahu to walk out of a NSW origin camp, or his arrest for fare evasion on the London underground that led to him being caught in possession of an ecstasy tablet in 2007. But this article isn’t about Andrew Johns.
On the other hand, Darren Lockyer’s supporters are more likely to rock back in their armchairs with a peaceful, contented expression on their face, gazing wistfully into the distance as they cast their minds back over an illustrious, untainted career. Perhaps they are remembering that young blonde haired fullback who sliced defences to pieces with his elegant running game. Or maybe the grizzled five-eighth of recent years that artfully steered his team around the park despite his malfunctioning voice-box. Or maybe they’re recalling those cringe-worthy post-match interviews where the only person less comfortable than the viewer appeared to be the humble Lockyer, himself.
One thing’s for certain, Darren Lockyer should definitely be named an Immortal as soon as it is humanly possible. Why wait? The only thing that could possibly stand in his way now would be yet another evil conspiracy hatched by the NSWRL, but even those “rats” and “filth” won’t stop him from being immortalised in bronze at Suncorp Stadium.
While Wally ‘The King’ Lewis’ statue stares out at the Caxton St end of the cauldron, the Milton Rd side is crying out for its own guardian. And who better to fill that vacancy than the great Darren Lockyer, a true champion who I will be cheering wildly for the rest of this season, as he winds down a magnificent, unblemished career.
Now I’d better go and have a lie down.
By Hugh Holden