Two weeks out from the start of every NRL season, there's the same discussion had in pubs around the country: Who will start where for the Warriors?
Some positions are dead-sets. Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai will be in the halves. Manu Vatuvei and Bill Tupou will be on the wings. And it's pretty damn likely that Kevin Locke will be the man wearing the No 1 jumper when the Warriors take on the Eels in Sydney in a fortnight as the NRL season begins.
A veteran of 67 first-grade games since his debut in 2009, Locke endured an injury-interrupted 2012 season, spending significant time on the sidelines with knee and sternum injuries.
Locke's time off the paddock opened the gate for other fullback hopefuls - with Glen Fisiiahi and Carlos Tuimavave getting a look-in while he was injured.
The young duo are still there scrapping for that jersey in round one; a jersey that appears to be Locke's to lose.
The pint-sized Tainui flyer is focusing on just staying fit at the moment, but acknowledges he faces stern competition over the next two weeks.
"I've got to try and stay injury-free," the 23-year-old said.
"I've got to work hard at training, and show the coaching staff that I want to be there and represent the team.
"I know the other boys will be thinking the same - and that's what's good about playing rugby league. There's always competition that keeps you on your toes, so I'll just keep doing what I do and keep improving."
While stopping short of saying Locke had the inside running on being his No 1 in the season-opener against Parramatta in Sydney in a fortnight, Warriors coach Matt Elliott did talk about the abilities of the Warriors' "special" fullback.
"If you look at both teams that make the grand final, there are a few common themes that run among them and one is that the fullbacks are fair players," the former Raiders and Panthers boss said.
"I believe that Lockey brings us something that those guys have for their team. I have seen nothing but a committed, focused guy who wants to help his team-mates out.
"I have been really impressed with him and my observation from a distance of him for a long time is that he's a special player."
Locke, who has 24 tries to his name for the Warriors, has enjoyed Elliott's tenure so far as coach.
The way he sees it, reputation counts for nothing - and that's exactly the sort of mentality that breeds a competitive NRL squad and one hungry for results on the footy paddock.
"Everyone's fighting for a spot and no-one has really got a position in the team yet," Locke said.
"It doesn't matter who you are, I guess. You've got to work for it. With Matty, I don't think reputation and how many games you've played matter. I think it all comes down to how committed and how much effort and hard work you're willing to put in for each other."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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