NSW run inspired Qld dynasty: Lockyer

Twenty years after the infamous "hand grenade", Darren Lockyer says NSW's 2003-05 run - not Bryan Fletcher's post try celebration - sparked a Maroons dynasty.

DARREN LOCKYER.
DARREN LOCKYER. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Twenty years ago cheeky NSW forward Bryan Fletcher launched a State of Origin "hand grenade" that still reverberates through Queensland rugby league circles.

But ex-Maroons skipper Darren Lockyer believes the Blues' three straight series wins from 2003 was the catalyst for a remarkable Origin dynasty.

Few can forget the only try Fletcher scored in his 14-game NSW career.

Queensland certainly won't.

Indeed Fletcher's post-try celebration in NSW's record 56-16 game-three win that sealed a series sweep in 2000 will go down in Origin infamy.

Queensland great Chris Close described it as a "disgraceful show of disrespect".

Even former NSW playmaker Matthew Johns reckoned Fletcher's actions spurred Queensland on to launch a stunning run of 11 series wins in 12 years from 2006, including eight straight.

But Lockyer now believes NSW's 2003-05 heroics rather than Fletcher's carry-on sparked the Maroons' decade of dominance.

Back in 2000 Lockyer was a fresh-faced fullback.

By game two 2004 Lockyer had the Maroons reins, named captain while also making the tough transition to five-eighth.

Game three in 2000 clearly hurt Lockyer.

But an Andrew Johns-inspired Blues' series run cut deeper for Lockyer the leader.

"I remember the 2000 game when they threw the hand grenades, that was a pretty dark day for Queensland," Lockyer told Wide World of Sports.

"But that period (2003-05) from my perspective being in a leadership role was very tough.

"Freddy's (Fittler) leadership and Joey's (Johns) brilliance ... they were a very accomplished side, we were up against it.

"That period of time where we were losing series and I was captain, looking back that was probably the best learning curve I had.

"Because you work really hard, and you are looking for that breakthrough but it just took some time. Once we got that breakthrough in 2006, the resilience we built within the group (from 2003-05) put us in great stead."

Legendary Maroons fullback Billy Slater, who made his Origin debut in 2004, agreed that the likes of Johns rather than Fletcher had motivated Queensland.

He had witnessed both Blues in action up close and personal as both a spectator and player following his ill-fated decision to head out to game three 2000 as a punter.

"That was my first Origin I ever witnessed live. I still remember catching that train ride back (after game), it was pretty tough," Slater told Wide World of Sports.

"Bryan Fletcher threw the hand grenade, Ryan Girdler had a record number of points.

"But when I made my debut ... I remember coming up against Andrew Johns and he just seemed to have the ball on a string.

"Unfortunately you have to go through the tough times to get to the good ones."

Johns was so good by 2005 that future Immortal Johnathan Thurston was taking notes.

"That year in 2005 was my first year (in Origin). I remember game three," the former Maroons playmaker said.

"It was one of the games that I learned so much being in the opposition and playing against Andrew Johns, just the way that he dominated the game with his pass selection, his kicking game.

"And it hurt quite a lot, I remember sitting on the ground crying after game three."

While Lockyer believed the resilience Queensland had gleaned from the Blues' sweep set up the Maroons dynasty, he admitted Origin history could have been very different if Johns had not missed the 2006 series due to injury.

"The bigger the game, the better he wanted to play," Lockyer said of Johns.

"I remember he was coming back (in 2005) from his knee injury and he was really struggling with confidence.

"It was game two in Sydney and he kicked a 40-20, and that was the trigger. He just got himself back into that mode where he started believing in himself.

"For the next 50 minutes he just put on a show then they went to Brisbane and got stuck into us.

"But Andrew got injured the next year and that probably helped us out. If he was still playing for NSW things could have all been different."


AAP