This week one of our greatest players decided to call it quits after a truly wonderful career. Darren Lockyer has or will have broken just about every record there is to break in our game by the time he retires at the end of this season. He has been a brilliant player on the field and, importantly, a great role model for all young footballers.
Locky was actually my roommate on our first World Cup tour of the UK in 2000. We were both the younger players of the team but Locky had already cemented his spot in the side at fullback and I was trying to force my way in. Brad Fittler was the five-eighth and Andrew Johns was the halfback ... breaking into that side was going to be a task!
I remember at training in Leeds one chilly morning when Matt Gidley said to me: "Do you realise we are probably playing with three immortals here?" Looking back now those words were quite prophetic ... Fittler, Johns and now Lockyer are three players who would certainly fit that title. Those three were the greatest players of my era and terrific blokes and teammates.
Retirement is something that really creeps up on you. A lot of people have a lot of advice for you about when to hang the boots up, to keep going, to retire from rep footy ... but ultimately it's only you who really knows when the time is right. Rugby league is a bloody hard game. Physically there is none tougher and mentally it is truly testing.
Sixteen years in any professional sport is a feat. However 16 years in our game and over 300 games, 50 Tests, 30-odd Origins ... we can start to appreciate the enormity of what Darren Lockyer has achieved. And Darren has done it in a humble, no-fuss fashion that one can only admire. I hope he finishes this year the way he wants to ... he deserves it.
When players finish their footy careers they enter a whole new journey into the unknown. During your playing days your life for the term of your contract is pretty much mapped out for you. You think it's going to last forever and think about little else. But as you reach about 26 you start to think, "Gee, this could be over soon; I better get prepared".
Preparation is the key to anything and players approaching retirement need to get organised. You hear of ex-players going through tough times when their playing days finish. Having new goals, new dreams and finding new passions certainly helps the transition. The NRL does a good job ensuring players are better prepared for this and it is compulsory for all our young players to be undertaking some sort of study/apprenticeship or traineeship. Footy cannot last forever.
I look back on my playing days and feel very privileged to have been able to do the things I did, but at 33 life is hardly over. You can apply a hell of a lot of what you learn in professional sport to other areas of life and work.
There is talk Locky may take up coaching at the Broncos next and Wayne Bennett may be heading back. This would be the perfect apprenticeship to lead into becoming a coach. Brett Kimmorley is the assistant at the Bulldogs and I am sure he will one day become a head coach.
Going straight from playing into a head coach role would be very difficult. Coaching players who are you great mates and have been your teammates for a long time would be extremely tough as you try to find the balance between mate and coach. It's a high pressure job and a job you really only get one chance at so you need to be ready for it, if it's a career you want for a long period of time.
Whatever Locky does down the track he will be a success at and I wish him all the best and say congrats mate, you have had an awesome career!!
My tips for round four: Broncos, Rabbitohs, Raiders, Eels, Sharks, Roosters, Knights, Bulldogs.