Lockyer awaits his grand farewell - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Lockyer awaits his grand farewell

By Steve Jancetic and Melissa Woods 01/07/2011 10:26:44 AM Comments (0)

State of Origin has made a habit of creating grand exits for its greatest performers.

From Wally Lewis to Andrew Johns, Allan Langer to Brad Fittler, all have bowed out in Origin deciders, and all with the shield safely in their possession.

As he heads into next week's series decider in Brisbane, Darren Lockyer will be hoping for his moment in the sun, as Origin's most experienced campaigner brings down the curtain on a glittering Queensland career.

"I think that's a non-negotiable," Maroons utility Cooper Cronk said of sending Lockyer out a winner.

"He's one of the greatest players and people to have ever donned a rugby league jersey, both Queensland, nationally and the Broncos.

"There will be a lot of hype and hysteria around the game in sending Darren off on a good note, but at the end of the day the players want to win the game for Queensland first and then Darren Lockyer second."

But while it may be Queensland first, Lockyer second - history suggests the Lockyer factor may be the most pivotal ingredient to the Maroons achieving success.

The man who embodies Origin more than any other - champion pivot Lewis - was granted his fairytale farewell as he led Queensland to victory in the 1991 decider, the image of him holding the shield aloft that night now cast in bronze outside Suncorp Stadium.

His partner in crime Langer won man-of-the-match honours as he bowed out with an 18-all draw in his finale in 2002, the result enough to see the Maroons retain the title.

NSW's best have also gone out in style - Johns producing his greatest series ever to pull NSW back from 1-nil down in 2005 - while Fittler's 2004 farewell turned into a romp as the Blues clinched the 2004 title with a 36-14 win before more than 82,000 fans at Telstra Stadium.

All four were Origin legends.

All four bowed out in deciders.

All four walked away as winners.

It's a factor NSW coach Ricky Stuart is all too aware of as he prepares to take his team into enemy territory.

Stuart was wearing the NSW No.7 the night of Lewis' last game, and remembers the hysteria which surrounded the event.

Now seated in the coach's box, Stuart is determined to ensure this current batch of Blues - or Wednesday night's officials - don't get caught up into the same hype.

"In 1991, it was like we were invited to the party, but we weren't allowed to have a beer or dance with anyone," Stuart recalled.

"We were just there for the party.

"It was all about Wally, as it's going to be about Darren."

But with injuries and the untimely scheduling of an NRL match involving eight of his players having disrupted NSW's preparations, Stuart had plenty to deal with long before his players got to boarding their plane for the trip north.

The element of surprise that helped a more mobile Blues side stun Queensland in game two is no longer a weapon at Stuart's disposal.

Perhaps that's why he added Wests Tigers man mountain Keith Galloway to his 20-man squad for game three, knowing what worked in game two will not necessarily work in the decider.

"The one thing we'll be doing is trying to build on game two," Stuart said.

"I've heard that we've got to try and play that well again - that's not the way I coach.

"We don't want to just try and get back to where we were, we want to try and improve on what we dished out last week. Hence the players that I picked.

"I think there's some players there that can perform at an even higher level coming into game three."

Should his men achieve the unthinkable and win the decider on enemy soil - something the Blues have managed to do just twice in seven attempts - Stuart will no doubt put his name alongside Phil Gould as NSW's best mentors.

Lose and not only does Lockyer get his grand farewell, but the next Maroons era gets to kick-off on the back of six straight series wins.

It's a daunting proposition for the Blues, but as Cameron Smith - the man most likely to succeed Lockyer as skipper next year - admits, this NSW side is made of sterner stuff than recent editions.

"It's going to be hard, they would have got a lot of confidence out of game two," Smith said.

"We know that we've got to be better than what we were in Sydney to win that match.

"Darren Lockyer's last game's not going to get us a win."

And as he remembers 1991, that's all Ricky Stuart can ask for.

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