On Sunday I made a last minute decision to pass on using my Warriors season ticket, for a variety of reasons which really aren’t worth talking about here. When the weather closed in as the afternoon moved toward evening, and the tempterature gauge in my car plunged down to 6 degrees, and rain turned to hail – all these factors made me feel pretty smug. I got a text from fellow season ticket holder Julian early in the game complaining about the bitter cold, and I recalled what the great Brendan Telfer (come back to the radio Telf! It’s all morons without you!) said about Mt Smart: that it felt roughly 10 degrees colder than anywhere else in Auckland.
With all these self-congratulatory sensations running through me I sat down to watch the game, and after the first 20 minutes of dour, hardscrabble rugby league there was little to suggest that I’d made a bad call. The Warriors looked better than they had in a few weeks, sure, but you got the feeling that was more due to the opposition loathing the conditions than any heroics on our part. Then one of Marshall’s kicks headed the way of debutant winger Kevin Locke, and all that changed.
Because rather than hang back and wait for the spinning, skewing bounce of the ball to settle and come to him as most of our backline seem content to do, he charged at it at full tilt, scooping it up in one fluid motion before running with pace and poise toward the defence. As a friend remarked the next day, it reminded you of no one so much as Billy Slater’s vision and fearlessness, and it was the first inkling that this kid was not going to be another solid but unspectacular Warriors debut.
We all know the rest. The kid scored two tries and a conversion, and pretty much ignited the game for us. But more than the 10 points, it was the way he played, the creative lines he ran, the support play and the intelligence of his game which impressed most. He made McKinnon, hitherto our brightest mid-field attacking hope, look pedestrian by comparison, and as he’s a fullback playing out of position you’d have to suggest that injury-prone Wade’s days as a Warrior are numbered.
This season already feels like a write-off, and this team like one in transition. When Fien was let go, and snapped up by St George I felt kinda bummed, but maybe we do need to just call time on this era and let some new kids have a run. Watching Locke dance around the park in the most appalling conditions, playing as if he was under a clear blue Sydney sky in March, you got a sense that a star was being born. Good looking, fantastic skills, young and keen… looks like a franchise player to me.
And in a season which promised so much and failed so markedly to deliver, he’s a ray of light we need pretty badly right now. Makes me bummed, despite the Auckland weather, that I didn’t brave it to see his debut. Because it may yet turn out to be a tell-your-grandkids moment.