NRL: Brilliant Warriors fullback at crossroads

By Steve Deane

NZ Warriors fullback Kevin Locke in action. Photo / Brett Phibbs
NZ Warriors fullback Kevin Locke in action. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It's hard not to think there's more at stake for Kevin Locke this coming NRL season than his career.

Without wanting to over-dramatise the situation, the brilliant Warriors fullback's life appears to be at a crossroads. Certainly there was enough in the reports of his latest court appearance this week - for sentencing on a driving while disqualified offence - to suggest that re-establishing himself as a player who at his peak attracts comparisons to Billy Slater will be the easy part for Locke.

Even allowing for a touch of sympathy-eliciting hyperbole, the suggestion from Locke's lawyer that his mental health had suffered as a result of his legal troubles should be a red flag. So too the acknowledgment from Judge Anna-Marie Skellern to Locke that "at the time of offending, you were suffering a difficult depressive episode which impaired your judgment".

Many players struggle with the emotional highs and lows of a job that entails as much failure and disappointment as triumph and jubilation.

Prop Ben Matulino, for instance, was so unhappy during the 2009 season that he came close to walking away from the game altogether. Matulino came through that low spell, claiming the player of the year award this season despite the club enduring another tough campaign.

There's no guarantee Locke will do the same. Having submitted to the court a letter stating his contract could be terminated if he was once more suspended from driving, Locke is clearly on the shortest of leashes at the Warriors.

There has been no public statement by the club since Thursday's sentencing, and no attempts to put Locke in front of the media for the traditional public mea culpa. After a succession of broken promises and empty apologies, the Warriors appear reticent to publicly trumpet the pending reform of a player who has morphed from next big thing to next big problem.

Locke has been dogged by legal troubles for some time now. In 2011 he was the subject of an investigation into a sexual assault. No charges were laid. He has been suspended twice as a result of demerit points and has been caught speeding seven times. Thursday marked the third time he had appeared in court to face a driving while disqualified charge.

It's hard to escape the impression that he doesn't believe the law should apply to him, or that he simply doesn't care.

Those close to Locke certainly care. Mid-way through the 2010 season his mother called the Herald to object to the way her son was being portrayed. It wasn't easy living up to the hype created by his sensational entry to the NRL, and the paper was being too tough on him. The response was that Kevin was judged against a high standard because he had shown how good he could be.

On Thursday Locke was judged again, this time to a sympathetic standard. According to reports, both the police and the judge accepted that a sentence that could cost him his job would have an adverse impact on his partner and their unborn child. So instead of another driving ban, Locke copped 80 hours' community work for a third driving offence. He was also fined $1400, to go with a $5000 fine from the Warriors.

So presumably Locke will be behind the wheel again soon. The fans who leap from their seats when the baby-faced flyer does his thing on the field will be hoping he chooses the right road off it - and that he drives it well within the speed limit.

- NZ Herald

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