Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Locke will soldier on for team

Kevin Locke has been playing with a rare injury.  Photo / Getty Images
Kevin Locke has been playing with a rare injury. Photo / Getty Images

Kevin Locke is carrying a rare injury that affects less than one in 1000 sportspeople but the Warriors are confident there will be no long term damage if he plays on with it.

The speedy fullback, who scored the first Warriors try in Friday night's 10-8 loss in Brisbane, has been hindered by an ongoing quadricep injury he picked up in round four of this season.

It has appeared to affect his ability to hit full pace in games and also meant the quantity of his training sessions is managed carefully week to week.

The initial injury was a particularly bad corked thigh, which was serious enough for him to miss three games. A knock to the sternum further delayed his comeback but the main concern is around his quadricep and how it is healing.

"In Kevin's case, the muscle was banged and stretched at the same time," says Warriors doctor John Mayhew. "At the time there was a muscle tear and also a haematoma."

Since then Locke has developed myositis ossificans in the muscle - meaning there is a small bone growth at the site of the initial haematoma. It is essentially calcification of the bone; a small lump of calcium has built up and is grinding between muscle and bone. Mayhew says it is a rare condition - developing in less than one in 1000 people with a similar muscle tear - but won't require surgery.

"At this stage we see it as a low grade minor complication," says Mayhew. "It is unusual -I might see three or four of these in a year but we are happy that he will be okay and there will be no long term implications."

It is probably not comparable to damage that players like Ruben Wiki, Steve Price, Awen Guttenbeil and Simon Mannering have played with over the years but Locke does report that it hasn't been "very pleasant" and aches "here and there" during a game.

"I feel like I am still struggling to hit top speed sometimes and I'm less confident with any footwork on my right leg," Locke told the Herald on Sunday. "The pain sometimes goes right down to my kneecap but it is something I will have to live with at the moment."

Locke has proved his toughness in the past - who will forget that sickening collision with the goalposts at Jade Stadium in 2010 in the act of scoring a matchwinning try against the Roosters? - and will have to do it again, simply because the Warriors can't do without him.

His return has coincided with three wins in the last four games (after back-to-back losses without him) and he has become a vital, and relatively experienced cog (63 NRL games) in the backline. Glen Fisiiahi impressed against the Tigers in round 11 but needs to string together more performances of that ilk to prove he belongs in the NRL and it would be a big ask to give rookie Omar Slaimankhel the number one jersey.

The current predicament again raises the question of whether Krisnan Inu was offloaded too hastily. For all his faults, he had definite utility value and performed well at fullback against the Rabbitohs (before a shocker at the back in Melbourne seemed to seal his fate). Jerome Ropati was also a more than capable replacement fullback but he won't be sighted again on the field until 2013.

Despite his limited time on the field, Locke remains in the top 10 in 2012 among NRL fullbacks for tries and try assists, with an ever-increasing resemblance to Billy Slater's ability to throw a pinpoint cut-out ball to his outsides just as he hits the defensive line. His numbers stack up well with his 2011statistics, except in the areas of runs per game (9.5 this year compared with 13.6 last year) and average running metres (97 compared with over 141).

"He's had a tough year but he's improving every week and progressing well," says coach Brian McClennan. "If there was any concern we simply wouldn't play him.

"Fullbacks often cover the most distance of anybody in the team but the way he performed at the end of the Titans match [where he burnt William Zillman for pace in the 79th minute] showed what he could do in a fatigued state. He has got some more tricks in his bag and I am looking forward to seeing them."

- Herald on Sunday

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