Young Kiwis face mentor
ALL season they've been doing it for Darren Lockyer. On Sunday young Kiwi Broncos Gerard Beale and Alex Glenn get the chance to do it for themselves.
The pair are among five Kiwis who debut for Sunday's one-off test in Newcastle, a match being used by both camps to tune up for the Four Nations opener in Warrington on October 28.
Alongside Kevin Locke and Kalifa Faiai Loa, Beale is one of three debutants in a green-looking backline. After switching allegiance to New Zealand earlier this year, the Queensland-born former Junior Kangaroo has been handed the task of filling one of the troublesome centre berths. Although he played just six of 27 NRL matches at centre this season, he insists the position isn't foreign to him.
"I played a lot of centre growing up so it's not something I don't know how to do," he said. "It is one of my preferred positions, I would say. It is going to be tough coming up against Chris Lawrence, he is going to be out to impress as well, but I am confident I can do the job."
While coach Stephen Kearney said he had plenty of faith in Beale, his greatest endorsement came from his former Broncos captain Lockyer.
"The thing with Gerard this year is no matter where we put him - centre, wing, fullback - he performed," Lockyer said.
"He even played a bit at hooker for us, so he is very versatile. He's very strong, he's got great feet and a great attitude so he'll be fine."
Beale also has solid knees, as Lockyer found out when a collision with one ended his NRL career prematurely during a finals match against the Dragons. Lockyer ended that match with a depressed cheekbone, while Beale must have felt like the man who shot Bambi.
Lockyer invested plenty of energy into helping Beale pick himself up. On Sunday the master playmaker will be out to pick him apart, while Beale will be out to play party pooper at a second Lockyer farewell gig.
"That is funny," Beale said. "I have played with him all year so to run out against him is going to be something different. I always looked up to him at the Broncos. Playing against him is going to be awesome."
Every test debut comes with its challenges. For Beale the biggest will be Tony "T-Rex" Williams rampaging down his side of the field.
"He'll be out there to kill, I guess. But that is footy, I am not expecting it to be easy. It is Australia, they [have] got a lot of talent - but so do we."
Glenn is the other young Bronco out to wreck his club mentor's final test on Australian soil. Having been an unused 18th man for the last two Anzac tests, the 23-year-old back rower has certainly served his apprenticeship.
"I am grateful the way it has happened," said Glenn. "I haven't had to cop everything at once. The last two years really gave me the experience of what goes into the camps leading up to big games like these."
Lockyer will be running the cutter on his side of the field but Glenn said he wouldn't be out to test the Kangaroos legend's repaired cheekbone.
"I'm not that type of player, but if I have to shut him down somehow I will shut him down. I've got to do my job for the team, that is the first thing I will be worrying about."
Glenn turned down selection for the Australian national touch team and the Queensland under 19 side because he didn't want to jeopardise his Kiwis eligibility.
Asked how he viewed Johnathan Thurston's comments that the Kiwis were favourites for Sunday's match and the Four Nations, Glenn eschewed the chance to reclaim underdog status.
"Yeah we're the champs but I see both teams as equal," he said. "We have both got a lot of skill and a lot of talent."
The cauldron of NRL finals football - particularly that fateful match against the Dragons - had been great preparation for the test matches, he said.
"I'm ready to go out there and do a job for the nation."