By David Middleton
For sheer guts and determination, there is little question that Darren Lockyer’s display against St George Illawarra last Saturday night will take its place alongside the most courageous performances in the history of finals football.
His achievement in kicking the match-winning field goal two minutes into golden point extra-time, despite the inconvenience of a depressed fracture of the cheekbone, will be recalled for years to come.
Some will regard it as the performance of a modern-day John Sattler – especially if Lockyer takes the field in the preliminary final against Manly this Friday night, just five days after undergoing surgery to have three titanium plates inserted to repair the wound.
The following players are regarded as five of the standard bearers when it comes to courage under fire in finals football.
Greg Hawick, 1951
Almost two decades before John Sattler’s heroics, 19-year-old Souths halfback Greg Hawick set a high benchmark for courage when he played on after breaking his jaw in the opening 10 minutes of a semi-final against St George in 1951. Despite the pleas of medical officials, Hawick refused to leave the field and returned after halftime, only to suffer further trauma in a tackle before being helped off. Former international Cec Blinkhorn described Hawick’s effort as “one of the most courageous things I’ve seen in my 30-odd years in football”.
John Sattler, 1970
The courage displayed by Sattler in the grand final of 1970, when he soldiered on for 75 minutes with a shattered jaw, is enshrined in the game’s folklore. It has been venerated in song and in verse and stands as one of the most stoic performances in the game’s 103-year history. Felled by a wicked blow by Manly forward John Bucknall in the opening minutes, Sattler, the Rabbitohs’ captain, refused to yield. He bit down on his mouthguard and defied the pain to lead his club to a famous victory. Only a few of his closest team-mates knew of the extent of the injury and for the rest of the match they banded together to offer protection.
Andrew Johns, 1997
A painful rib injury suffered in Newcastle’s opening finals match against Parramatta was not about to end Andrew Johns’ season prematurely, especially when the club’s first premiership title was in the offing. He didn’t think twice about having the injury “needled” to take the field in subsequent finals but he found himself in real trouble during the preliminary final when a wayward pain-killing injection at halftime punctured a lung. Johns spent two days in hospital and was at long odds to play in the grand final against Manly. “HE COULD DIE” screamed one headline after a doctor outlined the worst-case scenario of Johns’s decision to play. He took the field, laid on the winning try for winger Darren Albert and the rest is history.
Luke Phillips, 2002
Under-rated fullback Luke Phillips earned distinction in two grand final performances for the Sydney Roosters. In 2000 he was considered unlucky to be overlooked for the Clive Churchill Medal after a wonderful defensive effort on a beaten side, and in 2002 he defied a series of serious injuries to contribute to his team’s 30-8 defeat of the Warriors. Months after the grand final it was revealed that Phillips had required 11 pain-killing injections to remain on the field. He was forced to retire early in the 2003 season following extensive surgery to a shoulder and both groins as well as a calcified hamstring.
Shane Webcke, 2000 and 2004
Shane Webcke had gone a long way to establishing a reputation as one of the toughest players of the modern era long before he played in the preliminary final and grand final of 2000 just five weeks after breaking his arm in a match against St George Illawarra. If not for the thick bandage that protected the wound, onlookers would have been none the wiser about the injury as Webcke tucked into his workload with typical relish. In 2004 Webcke underwent an arthroscopy the day after a final against the Melbourne Storm and played a semi-final against North Queensland the following Saturday.