Locky’s last hoorah

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The National – Wednesday, July 6, 2011

BRISBANE: It’s an assignment Ricky Stuart would rather have avoided, but the NSW coach says he will accept being the man to sour Darren Lockyer’s State of Origin farewell if it means returning the shield south of the border.
With a packed Suncorp Stadium set to send off one of Queensland’s greatest servants tonight, the Blues are out to play party poopers as they seek to capture their first interstate series since 2005.
It’s a winner-takes-all contest that has been labelled the biggest match in Origin history, the stakes leaving Stuart with juxtaposed emotions heading into the decider.
“I wish I wasn’t coaching against Locky for his last game,” Stuart told a packed press conference on match eve. “Obviously I would love to win it, it would put a dampener on his party.
“I wish it didn’t have to be me.
“I really, really like Darren, I respect him and he deserves all the accolades.
“He deserves a big send-off.
“That’s the sort of person you stand and applaud in regards to what he has done for the game.”
Stuart has done his best throughout the build-up to the pivotal clash to remove the ‘Lockyer factor’ from his players’ thoughts.
This Blues camp has been about his side, with the team locked away from the prying eyes of the media and general public to ensure his players retain their focus.
From naming a 20-man squad to failing to reveal the make-up of his final 17 to a secret training session on match eve, Stuart has gone to great lengths to shield his squad.
And all while attempting to convince them there is no pressure on them heading into Wednesday night blockbuster.
“We’re not expected to win this and there’s no pressure on us about winning,” Stuart said.
“We just need to play a good game of football to try and be in the competition.
“They’ve got the best players in the world which is why they should win the match.”
Blues skipper Paul Gallen wasn’t convinced the Blues had nothing to lose.
“There’s pressure on both of us – we’re facing six series defeats, that’s a bit of pressure, but they’re playing for their biggest name in Queensland which is a lot of pressure as well,” Gallen said.
Maroons coach Mal Meninga sided with Gallen.
“We know the enormity of the event and they do as well. We don’t put any pressure on ourselves at all,” Meninga said.
“We just have to go out there and play to our potential really and that’s about it.
“Nothing really matters until the game’s on tomorrow night. That’s the way that we look at it, that’s the way we prepare.”
The Maroons are heavily favoured to win on their home turf, but Suncorp Stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for them when it comes to Origin deciders.
Queensland haven’t won a decider at ‘The Cauldron’ since 1991, the game which proved to be Wally Lewis Origin farewell.
Since then there have been three deciders at spiritual home of Queensland rugby league, with NSW winning two of them and the other in 1999 ending in a draw. – AAP