Despite the Warriors slumping to a second consecutive loss with their late capitulation against Wests Tigers at Mt Smart Stadium last Sunday, Locke has been a revelation since moving to fullback a month ago and was easily his side’s best at the weekend with 145 metres and two line-breaks to his name.
He has little chance to rest on his laurels however, with both Lance Hohaia and Glen Fisiiahi having returned from injury in recent weeks.
Hohaia has been the Warriors’ first-choice fullback for the past 18 months while Fisiiahi was exceptional at the start of the season before suffering knee and ankle injuries in Round 5. But Locke said he was enjoying the extra responsibility and was determined to make the fullback spot his own.
“I do prefer fullback rather than wing,” said the 22-year-old, who has averaged 163 metres in his four games at the back this season.
“It’s a position I enjoy playing because you can read the game a bit more. I’m a person that likes seeing opportunities.
“When I was playing Toyota Cup (in 2009) I was showing some good form on the wing so I debuted on the wing and ended up staying there. I never gave myself an opportunity or never got the opportunity to play fullback.
“Obviously we had Wade McKinnon there for a while and then when he got injured and then left, we had Lance. But it’s good to be back there and I’m just trying to stay there, really.”
Locke said that Cleary had indicated the spot was his to keep should his form warrant it but admitted the pressure was on with both Hohaia and Fisiiahi back in the mix.
Fisiiahi has spent the past month playing for feeder club Auckland Vulcans since his return from injury while Hohaia came off the bench for the Warriors against Wests Tigers on Sunday.
“Ivan is just happy to pick the players that are in the best form so I’ve been given an opportunity week by week,” he said. “I’ve been playing fullback so I mustn’t have been doing anything wrong. I’m certainly going to be doing my best to keep Fish and Lance out of that position and make it my own.”
Locke has certainly endured an eventful 2011.
Beaten to a spot in the NRL squad at the start of the season by Fisiiahi and later by newcomer Krisnan Inu on the wing, he spent the first two months of the year playing for Auckland and only earned his reprieve following injuries to Fisiiahi, Manu Vatuvei and Bill Tupou.
But off-field distractions have also been telling at times with Locke admitting he struggled to focus on the task at hand earlier in the year following sexual assault allegations levelled against him (and of which he has openly spoken and denied).
“It was a bit of a tough time at the start of the year,” Locke said when asked about starting the year playing in the NSW Cup. “Obviously Ivan went off the form in the pre-season – which boys had been playing well – and picked the squad from there. The boys that started had certainly been playing well and had done the job whereas when I was given my opportunity I probably didn’t do my best and make the most of it. You’ve got to make the most of it.
“Back then there was a lot going on in my mind and I wasn’t training well. I was too lax and wasn’t performing as well as I could but now that I am, I’m trying to make the most of it.
“I’m still gelling to the position a bit and I need to involve myself more down towards our tryline, help out in our half and try and create some more opportunities… but I’m getting used to it more and I’m really enjoying it.”
While the Warriors sit precariously in seventh spot on the ladder following consecutive losses to the Roosters and Wests Tigers, Locke said he was confident they could turn it around this weekend despite facing a tough road trip to face North Queensland in Townsville.
“You know, we’ve been playing some good footy – it’s just little patches that have been letting us down. We can work on that,” he said.
“It’s something that teams go through but we’ll be doing our best to fix it.”
Warriors coach Ivan Cleary has a welcome dilemma to address over the coming weeks as he decides who will fill the No.1 jersey for the remainder of the season – but in-form youngster Kevin Locke says he isn’t ready to hand the fullback spot over any time soon.