Clearly, Darren Lockyer can do no wrong. After savouring victory in his State of Origin finale in July, Lockyer’s dream script continued when he celebrated a triumphant disposal of the Cowboys in his record-breaking 350th NRL game.
It has been a remarkable journey for Lockyer. The Broncos skipper admits not even he imagined he would become the most-capped player in the NRL’s 103-year history, surpassing Terry Lamb and Steve Menzies, when he ran onto Parramatta Stadium for his top-grade debut against the Eels as an 18-year-old way back in 1995.
Seventeen seasons on, Lockyer still has it. There is just one last wish: that he leaves the code at season’s end having completed a lap of honour as captain of a premiership-winning Broncos side.
“It was a big week,” says Lockyer of his record-breaking feat, which was recognised by NRL boss David Gallop, who presented the Test skipper with a framed match-ball at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
“I got one (a game ball) for my 300th when we got beaten easily at Newcastle a few years ago and the lights went out that night, so I’ll swap that one for this one,” he added with a chuckle.
“I’m pretty happy, but I’m happy for the team. There’s going to be a few more big games at the end of the year, but for me the priority is to play my role in the team and make sure the team performs the best it can.
“It would be great to go all the way. Anything now is just a bonus.”
Lamb, who watched his 15-year record tumble in Townsville, said Lockyer thoroughly deserved the new milestone. And he is adamant that the Maroons maestro should be crowned rugby league’s eighth Immortal when he officially retires after this year’s Four Nations tournament.
Clive Churchill, John Raper, Reg Gasnier and Bob Fulton were the original Immortals in 1985, before Graeme Langlands and Wally Lewis (1999) and Arthur Beetson (2004) joined the illustrious contingent.
“He’s earned the right to be an Immortal, absolutely,” said Lamb, who played against an 18-year-old Lockyer in his 1995 rookie year, the same season he led the Bulldogs to the premiership.
“I’d like to see him retire first and then be given the honour.
“They need to do the right thing off the field. The guys who have been named Immortals have had to wait a while, it took a long time for Bob Fulton and Arthur Beetson to earn the honour, so I think you need to be retired before you are named.
“But in my eyes he’s certainly got the pedigree. There’s nothing to dispute, the achievement is there … let’s see Locky move into retirement mode and then give him the recognition he deserves.”
Lamb said he never expected his record to be beaten, nor did he believe Lockyer had the defensive ability to succeed in the five-eighth role.
“I didn’t think anyone would ever break it, then Steve Menzies equalled it and Darren Lockyer came out of the clouds,” he said.
“I questioned Darren going from fullback to five-eighth, but I’m glad he proved me wrong.
“I’m really proud that Darren is beating it, he’s such a well liked and well respected in rugby league and for what he’s done in the game, it’s absolutely fantastic.
“When it ends, he could have nearly 360 games and I don’t know if anyone will beat that. He deserves this, I can’t imagine a better bloke or servant in rugby league.”