Darren Lockyer was acclaimed as a rugby league great yesterday after capping an outstanding season by clinching the Tri-Nations crown for Australia.
In Saturday's final, the skipper supported a midfield break from scrumhalf Johnathan Thurston to score under the crossbar early in the second period of golden-point extra time, securing the 16-12 win over New Zealand.
The stand-off had already led Brisbane Broncos to the NRL premiership and Queensland to their Origin series win, and was also awarded the Golden Boot as international player of the year.
"He's definitely going to go down as one of the greats of the game," prop Willie Mason said yesterday.
"He's had his critics at five-eighth [stand-off] with his defense, but his defense in the final and throughout the Tri-Nations has been inspirational," Mason said.
Yet there remain concerns a gruelling 10-month, 35-game season will soon catch up with 29-year-old Lockyer.
"It's really important that our schedule is favoring the players, because if burnout hits a player like Darren then we're losing one of the best players in the game early," Kangaroos coach Ricky Stuart said yesterday.
"It's really important that we are looking at the longevity of our best players. They can't last doing it. This is probably the fourth year that we've been going into November," he said.
"I know the rugby league administrators are being very conscious of this fact ... and they are doing everything they can in regards to players' health and welfare," he said.
Lockyer admitted he was relieved his season was finally over.
"I'm looking forward to my break," said Lockyer, who will have at least eight weeks off before returning to pre-season training with Brisbane ahead of its World Club Challenge clash with St Helens in England on Feb. 24.