Darren Lockyer believes Greg Inglis is league’s greatest ever athlete. PicTure: Peter Wallis
Darren Lockyer believes Greg Inglis is league’s greatest ever athlete. PicTure: Peter Wallis

Lockyer: GI cannot be overlooked as an Immortal

GREG Inglis is the greatest athlete to have played rugby league. Full stop.

In the end, the breakdown of the remarkable athletic frame that made GI so brilliant ultimately convinced him to walk away, but his legacy will endure for decades after his retirement.

I was shocked at the initial talk of Greg retiring but when you listened to Inglis speak at his farewell press conference last Monday, you could understand why the end came so quickly, 18 months ahead of his scheduled retirement.

As an athlete, it's a confronting moment.

Darren Lockyer believes Greg Inglis is league’s greatest ever athlete. PicTure: Peter Wallis
Darren Lockyer believes Greg Inglis is league’s greatest ever athlete. PicTure: Peter Wallis

His NRL duties aside, Greg had to ask whether he was capable of backing up again to captain Queensland and he obviously felt he wasn't up to the standard he needed to be at, which would have eroded his confidence.

But the sad finale will not taint how we regard Inglis and his place among the code's luminaries.

In my eyes, he is the finest athletic specimen to have played our game.

Sometimes you get a wonderful athlete who doesn't have a natural awareness for rugby league, but Greg had both.

I've watched several highlights reels this week and he really was a genetic sporting freak.

However, the magnificent vision gradually revealed chinks in the armour. At the back end of his career, Greg's body was starting to fail him.

Lockyer says Inglis must be in the Immortals conversation. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Lockyer says Inglis must be in the Immortals conversation. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Whether it was his shoulder or his knee, the building injuries took a yard of speed off him and he wouldn't have been able to train as hard, which would have kept the weight on him.

But I will always cherish Inglis at his peak - the indigenous whiz-kid who walked into Queensland and Australian teams in 2006 aged 19 when I was captain of both sides.

In rep teams we played in, I always thought, "just try and get some clean ball to Greg" because I knew he would do the rest.

There was no better sight as a teammate than seeing him in space and watching him fly. I remember a few times thinking, "geez, I feel sorry for this fullback, he is going to steamroll or burn this poor bloke".

When it comes to picking future Immortals, Greg has to be in the grand final.

Lockyer knew the pain in facing Inglis.
Lockyer knew the pain in facing Inglis.

Obviously champions like Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston will be frontline candidates but Greg cannot be overlooked.

He leaves memories and performances that will be remembered for decades and to me that defines rugby league immortality.

Naturally, he leaves a huge hole in Queensland's Origin plans this season, but there's a number of legitimate contenders for the Maroons' captaincy.

Queensland coach Kevin Walters will have a major influence on the decision but as a hierarchy we have high opinions of Daly Cherry-Evans, Michael Morgan and Matt Gillett.

It's an important next four or five weeks for Morgan and Gillett. Their club teams are struggling which is impacting on their form but they are both highly respected by their peers in the Queensland set-up.

As a former playmaker myself, I like the captaincy being in the hands of someone who controls the game.

Boyd Cordner has proven a great captain for the Roosters, NSW and Australia and he won the Origin series last year, so he has proven a forward can be a fine leader, but I personally like the skipper to be someone behind the wheel.

Cherry-Evans would relish the responsibility and accountability of the Queensland captaincy.

When he first came into the Maroons, he was a rookie in the shadow of strong individuals like Smith, Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. It would have been hard for him to express himself in that environment, but their departures allowed Daly to impose himself on the team in Game Three last year.

I've been impressed by Daly's maturation over the past 18 months at Manly. He is a fine communicator and he does know how to manage a game, his competitive fire and the way he gets the team around the park with his kicking game.

Greg's brilliance and aura is impossible to replace, but I'm confident Queensland have key people in the right places to fill the leadership void.



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