It goes without saying that every coach would love to have a Darren Lockyer in their team. Not just for his obvious and amazing skills on the field, but equally for what he does and stands for off the field.
Attitude, professionalism and a willingness to continue to work on skills to be the best are the key lessons to learn from the Brisbane, Queensland and Australian captain, who tonight will become the most capped player in NRL history.
His 350th first-grade game against the Cowboys in Townsville (Friday night) is pretty special, given that all of those games were played at the one club. Add to that his 59 games for Australia and 38 for Queensland and by season’s end (barring injury) he will have played over 450 games since he made his first grade debut in 1995. It's hard to imagine anyone ever breaking that record.
The other thing that makes his career so remarkable is that he will leave the sport at the top level. He still plans to play for Australia in the Four Nations at season’s end, has recently completed a record-breaking sixth successive Queensland Origin series win, and his club is sitting in third spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder.
There are a few reasons for Lockyer’s longevity. If his legacy is that players who've been around him emulate those key things as already mentioned - his professionalism, attitude and willingness to continue to work on skills - there will be some very happy coaches.
What we see on the footy field is the end product. Preparation is the key to success. On the field he always looks like he is in control, but it doesn’t just happen. There is a lot of preparation, mentally and physically. It is no fluke - this bloke is the ultimate professional.
The professionalism he shows on and off the field is a massive plus. Sure he has fun when he goes out with his mates - there were stories at Origin time about his alter ego Darrell who lets his hair down for a few drinks on special occasions three to four times a year - but you don’t hear about it. On the field, if you need a special play, Lockyer will come up with it.
You can’t play at this level if your attitude is not 100 per cent committed to your team and teammates. Lockyer never strays from doing the job he has been set by the coach. He knows his job and does it to the best of his ability every time.
As for Lockyer’s willingness to work on his skills, regardless of whether he was rated the world’s best fullback or the world’s best five-eighth, he never stops working on his game.
Whether it's his passing game or kicking game, he will work on every little thing he needs to in order to improve. He strikes me as someone who doesn’t see himself as better than everyone else and would be early to training, put the effort in at training, and still do extras.
He leads by example on and off the field and has been lucky in Brisbane having had such positive models in former coach Wayne Bennett and players like Kevin Walters, Allan Langer and Gorden Tallis. There were things in place to learn quickly.
While tonight’s 350-game record has been well-documented, his 14-year partnership with Bennett as his coach and mentor at the Broncos, until he left for the Dragons three years ago, is also believed to be some sort of record for a coach and player to be together.
It is very unusual for that to happen. But the good thing about that is that it brings a hell of a lot of stability within the playing and coaching ranks. Lockyer would have learnt from Wayne over time as a leader of men. The attitude Bennett portrayed to his team would have gone onto the field every time through Lockyer.
Even after Bennett left, Lockyer would have carried his legacy on at the Broncos. It will be interesting to see if that legacy continues through another player.