Almanac Rugby League – Celebrating Darren Lockyer

Darren Lockyer still has a few games of football left in him, but when he stood on the stage after Queensland’s victory last Wednesday night, the whole of the maroon world paused to listen and to reflect for a moment with him.

With humility in his face, he turned to the crowd, and in a voice that sounds like a mango box being dragged along the Warrego Highway said, “It’s been a privilege to represent all of you [Queenslanders].”

Darren Lockyer has been a star for 17 years.

Steve ‘Pearl’ Renouf , the champion centre from Murgon in Queensland’s peanut country, who moved with as much grace as any footballer you will see,  tells the story of Locky’s first NRL game.

In those days, Kevin Walters was the regular five-eighth. Kevvy was a clever footballer. He had to be. A little stumpy, Kevvy ran like a man carrying too many shopping bags. But he read the game well, and he’d built a terrific relationship with Alfie Langer, his outside backs, and his running back-rowers.

Kevvy was injured and had to miss the trip to Sydney for the match against Parramatta, and so the chance was given to a youngster called Darren Lockyer. I reckon he started on the bench, but came on to play five eighth. He was devastatingly brilliant: reading the play, breaking the line, running freely, setting up tries. The Broncos won 60-14.

Kevvy was watching at home in Brisbane.

“Out on the ground, we were laughing,” Pearl once told me. “Locky was a shy young kid, very respectful. And we knew he had the skills. But this was something else. We were just shaking our heads.”

“We couldn’t wait to get back into the sheds,” Steve continued. “And as soon as we did we rang Kevvy. And we all took the phone and said the same thing, ‘You’re gone, Kevvy. You’re gone. This kid’s got more ability in his little finger than you’ve got.’”

The rest is history. Of course Lockyer went to full-back for the Broncos, and Walters continued at five eighth, until he was superannuated to the north of England. Then Lockyer came in to five eighth and copped a fair bit for what was perceived as suspect defence. I think that has been straightened out by the record.

Andrew Johns once told me that Kevvy and Steve Renouf had a huge influence on how the game developed. Kevvy through the ‘outball’: the flat pass to the outside of the second defender. It had to be thrown perfectly, but the runner, Pearl, had to run the line which put himself into the gap. Johns watched it, practised it, and mastered it. He became famous for it. He happily acknowledges its genesis.

The thing about Lockyer is that he quickly picked up on it, only he could play both roles: he could throw the pass with the immaculate timing and precision it required, or he could be the receiver, exploding on to the ball  running lines and angles which mesmerised opponents.

To that you can add a fine kicking game, and kick-return game. For a long-time the Broncos loved broken play because it gave their talented players so much room. They were as good from 80 metres out as they were from 15.

And you can also add leadership. The shy young man from Wandoan and Roma became a true skipper.

In the week following Queensland’s win in the last-ever State of Origin at Lang Park (2001?) I interviewed him about the unlikely victory.

“When we were running out I saw [Queensland prop] John Buttigieg and I thought, look at the guts on that. We might be in a bit of strife here,” he said.

Locky took control, led them around the park, and fashioned one of many triumphs.

Darren Lockyer: champion.


John Harms wrote The Pearl: Steve Renouf’s Story available through Uni of Qld Press, or the author ([email protected])



About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Adam Muyt says

    Great profile JTH. What is it about Qld producing great inside backs – Lewis, Langer and now Lockyer? Do they have to have a surname beginning with L or is it more complex than that? :)

  2. Skip of Skipton says

    Didn’t Lockyer originally play footy as a kid, and only took up League when his family moved to a (the horror!) town with no footy team?

  3. johnharms says

    Darren Lockyer’s father played footy for Mt Gravatt (I believe). I reckon Darren played some junior footy. The family moved west to Wandoan – I reckon they ran a small business (servo?). Wandoan has about 300 residents. A rugby league team, but certainly no footy team in those days.

    When our family lobbed in Oakey in 1972 it was a rugby league town. There was a Toowoomba Australian footy comp, which might have had four teams?? Oakey remains a rugby league town. I note Goondiwindi has an Aust footy team these days – I thnk they are the Hawks.

  4. Ian Syson says

    IF Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt are chasing any tips on their switch to Australian rules, they need look no further than one man and his name is Lockyer.

    After an illustrious career with Souths and Easts in the Queensland Cup rugby league competition, Matt Lockyer the younger brother of Maroons skipper Darren joined the Yeronga Devils and has taken to the code with consummate ease.

    Lockyer, 30, has been a positive force this season for the Devils, playing their last QAFL match of 2010 this weekend against Wynnum.

    The defender has earned praise from umpires and coaches.

    “It’s something different and I needed a change in what I was doing I’d had enough of rugby league and I didn’t want to go back and play in the lower grades,” Lockyer said. “My father played (Australian rules) for Morningside and Mt Gravatt and my brothers played, so I was the only one who hadn’t and I was curious about it.

    “I think it’s a game of instinct and a game of skill, and what I’ve brought across from league is my hand-eye co-ordination and I was taught to kick like an AFL player by my father.”

    Brother Darren played Aussie rules as a junior, but switched to league when the family moved to Roma.

    Yeronga South Brisbane Aussie rules coach Chris Ryan praised the younger Lockyer’s ability to adapt to the game so quickly and invited those who doubt the ability of league players to make the switch to come and see for themselves.

    “The way he has taken to it is amazing it looks like he has been playing for 10 years,” he said.

    “The little sidestep he has he just steps around them, and his core strength is amazing, he just never goes to ground.

    “If there is any person in the AFL who wants to know if they (league players) can pick it up they should come and have a look at Matty play.”

    A versatile rugby league player, much of Lockyer’s ability can be attributed to natural ability, but he concedes he still has a lot to learn and is constantly working to improve.

  5. Mark Doyle says

    Good celebation of Darren Lockyer, John. He was a great player. And Ian thanks for the interesting bit about Lockyer’s brother. I was aware of the family’s aussie rules background in Brisbane before moving to the country. However, it is not uncommon to play both codes. In Albury we played junior aussie rules on Saturday and junior rugby league on Sunday. In the Riverina there were a number of blokes who were very good junior aussie rules players who played in the NRL – Greg Brentnall, Brad Clyde and Laurie Daley. I can also remember Ron Barassi making a comment 40 odd years back that he thought the great St. George player Graeme Langlands would have been a great VFL/AFL player. With respect to Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau, most of the comments made by ignorant media buffoons have been illinformed and irrational. We need to be patient. I am not sure if both Hunt and Folau can become A grade AFL players and it is much more difficult than playing aussie rules in a suburban Brisbane comp.

  6. JTH,

    should be the ‘Greys’ not the Hawks.

  7. david butler says

    Great runner of the football. It aslways amazed me that when he was playing fullback, which was his best pozzy in my view, teams kicked the ball anywhere near him. Great attitude and tremendous durablility.

    It is interesting to compare the way Locky dealt with the media compared with Big Mal.

  8. Interesting to see the class of Lockyer, Horwill and McCaw compared to Gallen in the end of match speeches. Good to see humble hasn’t completely gone out of style…

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