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Lockyer: Bennett wanted to bring energy back to the jersey and it worked

Queensland Maroons legend Darren Lockyer chalked up 36 State of Origin games between 1998 and 2011, 22 as captain, and has plenty of fond memories of the 2000s. 

The decade had plenty of excitement - Wayne Bennett blooding 10 debutants in Game I 2001 and Alfie returning in Game III, plenty of individual excellence on display and the unprecedented eight-straight kicking off in 2006. 

The debutants in 2001 included Brisbane Broncos forward Carl Webb and North Queensland Cowboys duo John Buttigieg and John Doyle, who were relatively unknown at the time, and all three excelled and scored on debut. 

Lockyer, sitting down with Petero Civoniceva and Justin Hodges to film Queensland Rugby League's four-part series Masters of the decade, remembers the significance of the game. 

"I mean 2000 was rock bottom, really, when we got embarrassed by the hand grenade," Lockyer, FOG #104, said.

32 - Fletcher's grenade ignites the Maroons

"And then Wayne came back and [Game I 2001] was pretty significant because it was trying to bounce back from rock bottom, but also it was the last time Queensland was going to play at the old Lang Park, which had so many great memories for the Queensland team through the '80s and '90s."

Lockyer said there was "such an energy in the stadium that night". 

"It was always a great atmosphere, but everyone knowing that was the last time before it got torn down, there was a buzz in the crowd. The players rose to the occasion," Lockyer said. 

"Wayne had taken a whole new approach. He wanted a bit of a youth feel to it. He wanted to bring some energy back to the jersey and it worked on that night."

Civoniceva, also one of the debutants that night, said the team was definitely under pressure "to right the wrongs" of what happened in 2000. 

"I think every Queenslander was gutted by what happened, but this was our chance," Civoniceva, FOG #120, said. 

"Being one of those 10 debutants was such an exciting time but yeah, definitely felt that expectation and the nerves of just trying to get back that Queensland pride."

Hodges, FOG #130, agreed. 

"You could see the amount of energy those guys were playing with... first game for Queensland knowing what's happened in the past and what New South Wales had done to us... you could just see the amount of passion," Hodges said. 

Queensland won Game I by a margin of 34-16 before losing the New South Wales 26-8 in Game II. Cue Game III and the return of the one and only Allan Langer. 

"It was a bit of a surreal feeling for me, Alf coming back... I just assumed that he was going to be the captain of the team. Wayne said 'no, you're still the captain'," Lockyer said. 

"We always called him 'skip'. It was pretty surreal to a player I looked up to and played a lot of football with at the Broncos and idolised, to now be captaining him."

For Civoniceva, his debut series is one he will never forget. 

"I will never forget when we were assembling at the Gabba, we were catching our bus to go to camp and we were all in the dark... no one knew who was coming in," Civoniceva said. 

"I remember that Yellow Cab coming down the driveway and then when Alf got out I reckon it was just this sense of relief that he'd come home. He'd come home for this one moment, to take us to victory.

"As young blokes, so many of us wanted to win this series, to right the wrongs of 2000. And to have our hero, a guy that we had looked up to for so much of our childhood, to lead us, it was pretty special."

Masters of the decade is a four-part series that sees 12 Queensland legends sit down and reflect on the four decades of Origin.

Mal Meninga, Rohan Hancock and Greg Dowling reflect on the 1980s; Kevin Walters, Ben Ikin and Steve Renouf reflect on the 1990s; Justin Hodges, Darren Lockyer and Petero Civoniceva reflect on the 2000s; and Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott reflect on the 2010s.

The series is rolling out on and the Queensland Maroons Facebook page in the lead up to State of Origin Game I.

Masters of the decade

1980s: Wednesday, October 7 at 7.30pm

Masters of the decade: 1980s

1990s: Wednesday, October 14 at 7.30pm

Masters of the decade: 1990s

2000s: Wednesday, October 21 at 7.30pm

2010s: Wednesday, October 28 at 7.30pm