Former North Sydney halfback Jason Taylor has warned Manly that they would target Darren Lockyer at their own peril should the injured Broncos skipper decide to take the field in Friday night’s grand final qualifier.
Lockyer had three titanium plates inserted in his fractured left cheekbone yesterday morning and faces a race against the clock to be fit for this weekend after accidentally colliding with team-mate Gerard Beale during Saturday night’s 13-12 win over St George Illawarra at Suncorp Stadium.
Taylor suffered a similar fate back in 1998 when he broke his nose in the final regular season game before backing up in consecutive finals against Parramatta and Canterbury where he was heavily targeted by his opponents. Bulldogs prop Barry Ward later missed the grand final through suspension after catching Taylor with a blatant high shot, the veteran halfback telling NRL.com that the Sea Eagles must be careful not to risk the same result.
“There is no doubt that Darren’s cheekbone or jaw will be the talking point all week but Manly want to make sure they don’t do what Barry Ward did because he ended up missing a grand final for that. You wouldn’t want to do that – it’s not worth it,” Taylor said.
“I think if Manly tried to target him it would stand out horrendously.”
Taylor pointed to recent rule changes that prevent chasers from hitting the kicker after he has kicked the football would greatly aid Lockyer should he decide to play this weekend but admitted the retiring playmaker couldn’t expect to get through the game unscathed.
“I’m sure [Manly] will try to unsettle him,” Taylor said. “The thing about my injury was that I played two games with it against Parramatta and the Bulldogs and Denis Moran had a crack at me in the first game and then Barry Ward did it again the next week. So I played two games with it and in both games opposition players did have a go at trying to get some contact with my nose.
“Both times it was when I was kicking the ball, too. That’s when Locky will find himself most vulnerable, although the rules have changed a fair bit in terms of protecting the kicker. You can’t hit a kicker after he kicks it like [in the past]… so I think if Manly try to target him in that way it would be a huge mistake. Barry missed the grand final for what he did trying to get me in that game.”
It isn’t all bad news for Lockyer and the Broncos. The return from suspension of Sam Thaiday, who has become known for his efforts to protect Lockyer in the defensive line, is a huge boost and he will no doubt be ready for whatever comes their way.
But whether he can help cut down on the average 17 tackles his captain makes per game – with the Sea Eagles certain to throw plenty of traffic Lockyer’s way – remains to be seen.
Taylor said that defence loomed as one of Lockyer’s primary concerns.
“The one thing about Darren’s injury that could be concerning is when he has to make tackles,” he said. “When he has got the ball in his hands he will be in charge of deciding whether or not he runs the ball but when he has players running at him, that’s when that injury could be an issue for him. But a guy of his experience, he’s not going to play if he can’t get the job done.”
Despite the nature of his injury, Taylor said he expected Lockyer to play and said there was no reason why he shouldn’t be able to produce his best football.
“The thing about having a facial injury is that it doesn’t stop you from doing your job – provided someone doesn’t go out of their way to whack you in the head,” he said.
“It will be interesting to see if it weighs on his mind – to be honest I forget exactly how I felt about mine back in 1998 – but most players by this time of the season are carrying injury.
“Darren’s injury stands out because everyone knows about it and everyone is aware of it but if you look at both teams on Friday night, everyone will be carrying something.
“You’re never playing games at this time of year where you’re 100 per cent fit. And a guy like Darren Lockyer will know how to get through it.”