Lockyer the humble warrior embraces fight to preserve Australian dominance

The Kangaroos captain has overcome injury to face a resurgent Great Britain.
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The Independent Online

If the weight of history hangs heavily on Darren Lockyer's shoulders - or even on his suspect ribs - he does a good job of disguising it.

Tomorrow, Lockyer could become the first Australian captain for 32 years to lose a deciding match to Great Britain. It is a prospect that has haunted and galvanised Kangaroo sides since the Seventies, but he claims it would be no disgrace to come second in the Tri-Nations.

"It enters your mind, but it doesn't add to the pressure," he says of Australia's long period of dominance. "There's pressure going into any Test match and I just think that Great Britain are pretty much on a par with us now.

"If New Zealand had had all their players fit, they could have gone close to winning it, too. There's no shame in it for us if we don't win it."

A measure of Great Britain's progress is that only two years ago they were laughed out of Sydney after conceding 64 points in a one-off Test. Now, Lockyer says, any of the current side would be welcomed back. "I think any of these British players could cut it in the NRL and quite a few would be stand-out players at their clubs," he says.

"There's Paul Sculthorpe, for instance, and Brian Carney. There doesn't seem that much of him when you look at him, but when you play against him you find that he's very strong.

"Stuart Fielden would do well in Australia, but I don't want to leave anyone out, because from one to 17 they're all good players. I'm not sure you could have said that five or six years ago."

And then there is Andy Farrell, the Great Britain captain who, on Monday night, usurped Lockyer as the world's best player by winning the Rugby League World Golden Boot. Anyone looking for any rancour from his predecessor will be disappointed.

"We don't see every game from Britain, but he's had a great season for Wigan and been playing well for Great Britain. We all think he deserves it."

Fair enough and gracious to a fault, but a fully fit Lockyer would probably have won it again. Fit, however, is something he has rarely been this season. Back in April, he cracked his ribs and has suffered recurring problems since. "There's calcification there now and, when I play, the callus can break off."

That was what happened in the Tri-Nations' second match, when Lockyer inspired the win over New Zealand at Loftus Road, but then had to sit out the next month before reappearing in last week's friendly in France.

Lockyer is a popular man, but his record of tormenting Great Britain - especially in the final minutes of close matches - provoked a guilty hope on this side of the Channel that he would not come through that match intact. No such luck. He played 53 influential minutes. "No drama. I did everything I normally do - running the ball, making tackles - and had no reaction."

And even though a shuddering crunch in his rib-cage might be the biggest contribution that a Fielden or an Adrian Morley could make to a British success at Elland Road, Lockyer does not expect it. "I don't think they'll be doing anything over the top to try to test the ribs out. They'll be worrying about their own game and that's the best way.

"I'm not worried about the ribs. They're really just crying out for a rest."

Rest, or the lack of it, has become an issue for Lockyer and his team-mates this week. Amid the debate concerning the future of the Tri-Nations after this first, hugely successful staging, the Australian Rugby League has asked its senior players what they want to do in future years.

The news, for anyone enthused by the last few weeks' big crowds and fiercely competitive action, is not good. "Playing every year is too much," he says. "The governing bodies need to listen to the players and work out a system where all are happy. Maybe every other year, with one-off Test matches in the years in between. I've been over here four times in five years; I'd like to spend some time at home."

That might look like dodging another showdown if Great Britain do win at Elland Road, but, with Lockyer on the field, few would assume such a result.

He has played full-back for Australia, Queensland and the Brisbane Broncos, but his return to the stand-off role he played as a junior makes him, if anything, even more dangerous. On Saturday, he will play alongside Brett Kimmorley, with whom he was largely responsible for rescuing all three Tests of last year's Ashes series.

"But it's not just about us," he says. "We've got Danny Buderus and Craig Wing working out of hooker. We've got some damaging runners. It's not a team that just relies on me and Brett."

And it is not a team that expects to enter any Australian Sporting Hall of Infamy, even if they lose in Leeds.