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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2007, 11:33 GMT
Hard act to follow

By Phil Harlow

In his own words, Darren Lockyer's 2006 "wasn't bad".

Australia captain Darren Lockyer
Date of birth: 24 March 1977
Team: Brisbane Broncos (1995-present)
Representative teams: Queensland (24 State of Origin games), Australia (35 caps)
Major honours: NRL title 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006; State of Origin 1998, 2001, 2006; World Cup 2000; Tri-Nations 2004, 2006; International Player of the Year 2003, 2006

That is an understatement right up there with "Roger Federer can hit a tennis ball" or "Tiger Woods knows his way around a golf course".

The 29-year-old Lockyer won the NRL Grand Final with the Brisbane Broncos, the State of Origin with Queensland and the Tri-Nations with Australia, grabbing match-clinching scores in all three deciding matches.

For good measure, the Australia and Broncos captain received the Golden Boot as the outstanding player in the international game and was named the NRL's best stand-off.

Lockyer - much like Federer and Woods - is the best in the world at what he does.

So how do you follow the perfect season?

"I said to myself after it had all finished last year that I'd get away from the game and have a complete rest mentally," Lockyer told BBC Sport in his distinct gravelly Aussie twang.

"Now I've come back and trained as hard as I can.

"All you can do is prepare yourself as much as you possibly can physically. If you do that, you can go into the season confident in your mind that you are in the best shape you can be.

"That goes for the rest of the boys as well. The fitness work we've done will hopefully put us in good stead for another good season."

Lockyer, who will lead the Broncos out to face St Helens in the World Club Challenge on Friday, has evolved into the complete modern-day player with the vision to see gaps in the tightest of defences and the skills - be they passing, kicking or running - to exploit them.

We're taking this game seriously, without a doubt

Australia and Brisbane skipper Darren Lockyer

There is no player in the world more dangerous with ball in hand on the last tackle. Just ask Great Britain, who have fallen foul of Lockyer's skills in the Tri-Nations on numerous occasions.

And he has hit back at criticism of his tackling capabilities in the best possible way.

One memorable hit on man-mountain Willie Mason in last year's State of Origin series made a spectacular case for the defence, while his week-in, week-out tackles for the Broncos have ensured that teams look elsewhere for a weak link.

Lockyer is a one-club man having made his NRL debut for Brisbane back in 1995, but the path to greatness has not been without a few bumps.

After establishing himself as an automatic choice for the Broncos, Queensland and Australia as a full-back, Lockyer moved to stand-off - or five-eighth in Aussie parlance - in 2004 and found his qualities questioned in no uncertain terms by the unforgiving Australian media.

But Lockyer's annus mirabilis has silenced his critics in a big way, and it's all history as far as he is concerned.

He has turned his attentions to the World Club Challenge, and ominously for St Helens, Lockyer is keen to make amends for missing out on the trophy back in 2001.

"We've already spoken amongst ourselves in the off-season and said that we're not the Premiers any more - it's all about 2007 now," he said.

"We've been here before and didn't get a win. So the club - from Wayne Bennett and the coaches through to the players - have prepared really well. This is a trophy we definitely want to add to what we won last year.

"We're taking this game seriously, without a doubt."

St Helens v Brisbane Broncos - audio commentary is live on BBC Radio Live Sports Extra and this website on Friday 23 February at 1955 GMT. Highlights on BBC Two on Saturday 24 February at 1400 GMT.

Broncos expect Saints to hit form
20 Feb 07 |  Rugby League
Lockyer pleased with warm-up win
15 Feb 07 |  Rugby League
Lockyer tempted by Super League
15 Feb 07 |  Rugby League
Lockyer scoops Golden Boot award
20 Nov 06 |  International
Australia 16-12 New Zealand
25 Nov 06 |  International
NSW 14-16 Queensland
05 Jul 06 |  International
Lockyer to skipper Kangaroos
13 Oct 03 |  Rugby League


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