Almanac Rugby League – The fairytale continues

For someone who appears not to particularly enjoy the attention of the public spotlight , Darren Lockyer gets plenty of it.

Don’t get me wrong, Lockyer is entirely accommodating with the media, public and corporate demands. He is pure sporting hero. But I can’t help think sometimes the demands of attention must be tiring and distracting. At “media tart” school his Queensland classmates Peter Beattie, KRudd and Dell Sailor were front and centre, notebook in hand taking copious notes. Lockyer was back row cool, feet on desk. That is if he wasn’t truant.

Unfortunately for Lockyer, when someone as talented as him decides to retire from the game, a pantomime of media attention is bound to ensue. And so it has. Victories for Australia and Queensland earlier in the year just whet the appetite for the adornment that has and is continuing to flow as the Broncos make their surge to the premiership. Every Lockyer action has had a consequence. Every “last” Lockyer appearance against a team or a venue has been acknowledged. The Premier Anna Bligh even game him a piece of the Suncorp stadium turf a few weeks back after his last club game against Manly.

Yet through this, he has led a team of very talented footballers in their own right to the precipice of achieving something great and truly magical.This was no more evident that in the match against the Dragons last Saturday night. In a build-up that would make Don King proud, every cliché was gleefully resurrected, every relationship meaningfully considered, every archive photo of Wayne Bennett and Lockyer during their years together displayed. This was mutual respect on show. The taunts were friendly fire at best. Both had been through too much together to let the meaning of this game get in the way. Both might deny it but the pressure was intense. Do or die.

But talk can be cheap. Pressure is real. Only one person laced on the boots on Saturday night. Only one person had the obligation of execution on the field. Wayne Bennett cannot  carry the burden of a missed tackle or a knock on in the first tackle. Nor is he responsible for handling the ball 3 times out of every six tackles and orchestrating an attack on both sides of the ruck. For the 355th time Darren Lockyer carried that weight of expectation and attention. And just like the vast majority of each and every one of those games, he executed with perfection, reverence and resolve. Injuries are only distractions. Lockyer makes it happen. Broncos win 13-12 in extra time.

Within hours Lockyer is undergoing surgery on a fractured cheekbone. Sunday morning news reports are full of speculation about whether he can play and any facio maxillo specialist who hasn’t been consulted for an opinion isn’t worth asking. The media cycle begins again and this time Lockyer’s text messages are on the front page. Experts will be consulted about PPE (personal protective equipment) Lockyer will wear on Friday night against Manly. If I don’t see a digitally altered photograph with Lockyer in a Hannibal Lecter face mask at some stage through the week I will be disappointed. It will be relentlessness and only topped by the possibility that it could continue until the Grand Final.

But classically Lockyer will handle it. He has learnt to become the antithesis of the media tart. His coach and club know his humility is the perfect foil to the publicity that will bear down on him. And whilst his teammates may be saddened by the prospect that Lockyer will not be around until game time , they will revel in a fuss free preparation afforded to them by the distraction. Indeed the only distraction if any, will be the thought of what role they have played in this “Cinderella story” of which they are a part.

If Betfair had a market for fairy tales coming true there would be no “layers”, because right now no one is prepared to bet against a legend like Darren Lockyer having the last say.And that is the way it should be.

Brisbane 13 (Tries: Te’o,Copley Goals: Parker 2/4,Field Goals: Lockyer 1/2 )

St George Illawarra 12 (Tries: Cuthbertson,Boyd Goals: Soward 2/2)

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Crowd: 48474

Referees: Matt Cecchin,Tony Archer,

Votes: 3- Lockyer (Broncos), 2- McGuire (Broncos), 1- Boyd (St George)

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