He still harbours regret over the freak collision that ended Darren Lockyer’s NRL career but Broncos young gun Gerard Beale won’t be feeling any such sentiment when he turns out against his club captain for the first time in a New Zealand jersey.
Beale was the unlucky man at the centre of one of the defining moments of this year’s finals series when his right knee struck Lockyer’s face as the 21-year-old leapt high to catch a bomb against the Dragons. The collision left Lockyer with a fractured cheekbone and ultimately saw his Brisbane career come to a premature end when he was ruled out of the grand final qualifier against Manly a week later.
But with the pair set to go head to head as early as this Sunday, Beale said he had no qualms about ruining Lockyer’s international farewell.
“That would be good,” he told NRL.com. “When I get out on the field I obviously want to win for New Zealand but it will be a good challenge. I’ve never played against him.
“Hopefully I get to play against him on this tour – that would be a bit of a buzz as well. But I’ll be going out there to win.”
Asked how he felt about his unfortunate collision with Lockyer now that he’d had time to process it, Beale credited his former captain with helping ease the pain.
“He told me, ‘that’s footy, it’s just one of those things’. He made me feel a lot better about it,” Beale explained. “I guess it’s one of those accidents that happen. It’s all good now.”
Ironically, it was Lockyer that played a leading hand in Beale’s remarkable season in which he played every game before earning his call-up to the New Zealand Four Nations squad.
Despite having played just 11 first grade games before 2011, Beale finished the year ranked second in the NRL for total metres gained with 3561 at 132 per game (behind only Paul Gallen).
“I learned a lot this season – especially playing in Locky’s last year,” he said. “It was mainly through the way he trains and the way he holds himself. On the field, too, with the way he is calm but competitive. He is willing to do anything for the team but he knows how to go about it.
“For me, it’s been about trying to take that and put it into my game. I feel that it’s really helped me. I got a lot of confidence out there on the field this year.”
Beale is one of the new crop of talented youngsters to have caught the eye of New Zealand selectors as they look to build on their World Cup and Four Nations success of recent years.
Despite growing up in Brisbane and representing the Junior Kangaroos in 2010, he said that he had always wanted to represent the Kiwis and was proud to have the opportunity to make his international debut in the coming weeks.
“It was an easy decision for me,” he explained. “I always wanted to play for New Zealand.
“I mean, it was tough growing up in Brisbane. Origin is massive there. But I wanted to do it for my family. I felt comfortable doing it and I’ve got no regrets.
“For me it’s all a bonus after the season [I had] with the Broncos. Just looking around at all the boys like Benji. It’s amazing.
“I grew up watching these guys play and dreaming about playing alongside them one day. Hopefully on this tour I’ll get to do that. Fingers crossed I get a chance.”