In searching of the perfect home ground farewell for retiring legend Darren Lockyer at Suncorp Stadium this Sunday, the Brisbane Broncos do not have to look far for a blueprint.
On September 3, 2006, the Broncos turned on the best possible finale for front-rower Shane Webcke as he played his last regular season game against the Warriors. A crowd of 47,193 poured into Suncorp to pay homage to Webcke after 12 seasons and 250 games for the club.
The afternoon panned out perfectly for the 31-year-old front-rower as the Broncos rounded off preparations for the finals by finishing in third place. The Warriors were off the pace that season and were powerless to prevent the Broncos running up a 36-12 score. Webcke’s performance was largely unobtrusive; there was no fairytale try or match-winning tackle, but it didn’t matter to the fans who stayed well beyond fulltime to salute their hero.
Ironically, the victory meant that the Broncos would play at Suncorp again six days later on the opening weekend of the finals series.
The parallels with 2011 are obvious but the mindset of the two Broncos greats is expected to be poles apart.
In 2006 Webcke admitted he was more nervous before this game than any other in his entire career.
“Throughout my career I had always felt a great sense of expectation on match afternoon,” Webcke wrote in his 2009 book Hard Road. “But I don’t remember it ever being quite the way it was that day. I was a bundle of nerves. Just once I took a peek out of the dressing shed tunnel, looking up at the vast crowd. I beat a hasty retreat; it was too much. When I think now about that time before the game, I know I was totally overawed. So many people had sent me messages, had written and said kind things about what they hoped for me on the day. I suspect there’s a little bit of extrovert in all of us that welcomes a burst of centre-stage attention, but that Sunday it was almost too much.”
For Lockyer, this Sunday will mean far more than a run-of-the-mill game but given his extraordinary achievements as a record-breaker at club, state and international level, it is unlikely that he will be over-awed by the attention, even with the house-full sign posted outside Suncorp Stadium.
In recent weeks, Lockyer has equalled the all-time premiership appearances record at Suncorp and broken the record a week later in Townsville. The focus on the Broncos captain was enormous during that period and there has been even more publicity this week with the impending release of his biography.
But as he remarked on the Footy Show on Thursday night, his preparation for Sunday was helped by the events at Brookvale Oval last week. The massive coverage of the Manly-Melbourne fight diverted the spotlight, allowing Lockyer to focus on his football.
The Brookvale blow-up may play into Lockyer’s hands in another way as suspensions and injuries arising from that match mean Manly’s line-up will have a spare parts look to it this Sunday.
The Stewart brothers, five-eighth Kieran Foran and rookie forward Darcy Lussick will all be missing through suspension and winger David Williams is sidelined with a fractured vertebra. The Sea Eagles are relatively safe in second position on the ladder and while pride and competitive instincts will ensure they perform competently, it is unlikely that they will produce the same levels of passion and intensity that were evident in their game against the Storm.
Brisbane, too, are secure in third position on the ladder but there is little prospect that they will slacken their attitude in front of a full-house. The Broncos have too much respect for their captain to play at anything less than full throttle.