While COVID-induced border shutdowns meant his arrival at Souths Logan Magpies was a stop-start affair, Kevin Locke is hoping this year’s Intrust Super season will mark a smooth new beginning for his rugby league career.
Locke lit up the NRL as a young fullback with New Zealand Warriors, producing an enviable highlights reel celebrating his footwork and his speed – and after a few detours along the way, he is now back playing the game his loves and focused on being the best he can be.
Soaked through, and no doubt a little sore, after enduring some of the toughest conditions fans have seen on the field for years, nothing was going to take the smile off the former Kiwi international’s face following his first outing for the Magpies last Sunday.
Match: Magpies v Bears
Round 1 -
Venue: Davies Park, Brisbane
Despite the torrential downpour at Davies Park, both the Magpies and their opposition the Burleigh Bears were able to put on an entertaining and skill-filled show, with Locke crossing for two tries and kicking two conversions as his new club secured a 36-20 win.
“It was good, it was certainly what I expected in terms of physicality and how fast the game has gotten,” Locke said of his successful return to rugby league which saw him earn selection in the Round 1 Team of the Week.
“Considering the weather conditions, it sort of made it even harder, the field was nice and boggy and soft, and it was like running in sand.
Round 1 highlights: Magpies v Bears
“It was good to get over the line, there was a couple times there where I could have had a couple of other opportunities, but it was certainly good to get over the line... certainly forgot how it felt, honestly, just real credit to our team in terms of how tough that game was and we stuck in there and against a quality side like Burleigh Bears.
“We fought hard and those tries come from hard work that the individuals in our team put together to give you those opportunities and I am certainly grateful.”
A calf injury sustained during the pre-season meant his naming in the final team line-up was held off until game day, with the inclusion of Locke one of a number of pleasant surprises for Magpies fans who watched a star-studded team that also featured Karmichael Hunt, Albert Kelly, Corey Oates and Tom Dearden produce a win.
“Coming over (in) the timeframe that I did, I missed out on some pre-season that the boys did early on,” Locke, who arrived from New Zealand to Souths Logan headquarters in early February following a number of delays to his travel schedule.
“(So) it was a little bit of fatigue that caused a few aches and pains in my calf muscle and generally in my body itself and I just did some rehab with the rehab crew and got myself right for game one.
“I was waiting on a final examination (before I could be named).”
This season, Locke has signed up with a team that also features Hunt and Broncos-aligned half Kelly, with the trio bringing some much-needed experience to a young Magpies team, not only with regards to their footballing nous.
Hunt excited to return to rugby league with Souths
Locke – who reached the highest of highs in the NRL, helping guide his side to a place in the NRL grand final in 2011 – has been open in the past about some of his personal struggles and shared what he has learnt from the wrong turns he made off the field and the work he has done to right his course.
For Souths Logan CEO Jim McLellend, Locke’s journey is one everyone can learn from and he was happy to have someone with his lived experience at the club.
“I think he’s probably one of those kids who achieved a lot at a young age, and when you achieve everything very quickly, sometimes you lose focus about what the game’s about and I think he’s lost a lot of years of good footy through that process,” McLelland said.
“He believes he’s still got something to offer and he’s had some trials he’s had to deal with in the game and in his life over the years, but we have just given him an opportunity.
“We are pretty solid group here and we stick together and we are happy to give people second chances, but he’s got to earn it and he’s got to earn the respect of the group and he’s got to want to be a part of something which he says he does, and we are pretty excited to have somebody of that calibre join our group.
“I think culture is everything, if you don’t have it… it’s the DNA of our game, culture, we are there for each other through good times and bad, and we have got to be prepared to support each other, give people a second chance, get around people who are struggling and having hard times.
“That’s one thing our club has always been prepared to do, is give people an opportunity and a second chance and once those guys join our club, they will feel part of something straight away and the rest is up to them.”
For Locke, that was one of the main reasons he wanted to join with the club.
“I had a couple talks with a couple clubs, and I just had a chat to Steve (head coach Steve Bretherton) and speaking with the coaches and whatnot … attracted me to come to Souths,” Locke said.
“(What I liked) was the fact of what they could offer in terms of, you know, you have to start from the bottom.
“I am not coming into the club as a person that has been at a high level with the Kiwis and the Warriors... I wanted to humble myself and come back down and that’s the approach I was presenting myself and that’s the approach they gave me.
“For me it was having the understanding that I wasn’t who I used to be, but I can become who I used to be – and having this as a foundation, to be able to become that, is awesome because I wanted to be treated like a normal player... I didn’t want to be treated like the Kevin Locke everyone thought I was.
“That was the importance of coming to a club, I didn’t want to be put higher than anyone else because of my achievements.
“I wanted to be where they are because we all are as one, but if I am to excel from here, if they are to excel from here, then that’s achievements that we make as a team and as personal players.”
However, there is no denying the move has been tough, but Locke said he was prepared to put in the work to push as far as he can, and was deriving much of his strength from his partner – and recently, his fiancé – Brooke Blair, a fellow athlete.
“It was definitely a big decision to come over here… we had to weigh up a lot of things in terms of the whole COVID thing and how things are going to work, but we are here now and we made the decision to be here and we are here to do the work,” Locke said.
“(We) sat down and that’s the talk that we had; is that if I was to come over here, I’m not coming here just to play Cup, I want to give (NRL) a crack, and that’s the whole reason of coming over, because we have left my son back at home and that’s a hard thing.
“Before, I could just fly back every weekend, so that was a massive decision for me to leave him, because potentially, that could be the year where I won’t be able to see him for the year, so like I said, I have come over here to work, come over here to take it further than the Cup and it’s only me that can do it.
“I have everything in front of me and everything to help me with the club, with Steve, with coaching, with the boys, but it’s an individual thing to take it further.
“I believe I can if I really put my mind to it, and my mind is at that state and it needs to stay that way.”
This week, Locke has been named on the wing in the team to take on Sunshine Coast Falcons at Bishop Park.
Match: Magpies v Falcons
Round 2 -
Venue: Bishop Park, Brisbane