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Locke joins best man Lockyer on eight cup finals

Locke joins best man Lockyer on eight cup finals

Craig Locke taking on all-comers for Merthyr

Craig Locke will join his best man Dafydd Lockyer on eighth cup final appearances when he runs out for Merthyr at Principality Stadium on Sunday night in the biggest game at #RTP24.

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The man described by Merthyr back Sir Stan Thomas as “arguably the greatest player to ever play for Merthyr”, the 36-year-old second row will be seeking another victory when he packs down against reigning Indigo Premiership champions Llandovery. The two became firm friends when Locke joined Pontypridd.

“We clicked and became best mates – he was best man at my wedding in Croatia. He’s a great man, on and off the field and it’s an honour and accolade to match his record,” said Locke.

Lockyer appeared in seven WRU Challenge Cup finals for Pontypridd, winning in 2006, 2011, 2013 and 2014, and once with a victorious Neath team in 2009. Now Locke, who played alongside him in the 2011, 13 and 14 wins for the ‘Valley Commandos’ is set to draw level with his eighth final outing.

Locke learned his rugby at junior level Abercynon before appearing for Mountain Ash Youth and seniors. Pontypridd snapped him up in 2010 and he made 137 appearances for them, winning four league titles and three Cups. He was also a cup runner-up with the Sardis Road outfit in 2012 and 2015.

He then joined Merthyr in 2015 and has picked up one Championship title, three Premierships (2017, 18, 19) and lifted the Cup in 2018. He was a runner-up in the 2019 final.

Craig Locke shows off the cup after beating Newport in 2018

“I played football until I was 13. I started playing rugby at school and our team was pretty good. I then played for Abercynon Juniors and youth and senior rugby with Mountain Ash where Neil Eynon, the ex-Pontypridd prop, was coaching,” said Locke.

“He spoke to Dale McIntosh, who was then at Ponty, and I had a few games on permit for them towards the end of the 2009-10 season. I signed for the next season.

“We had a good set-up and had some great times in the British & Irish Cup. We did well in that competition as well as picking up Premiership and Cup titles.”

Merthyr had a new backer in multi-millionaire Sir Stanley Thomas, who had ambitious plans to transform The Ironmen into a community club by installing a new all-weather pitch, stands, gym and a clubhouse at The Wern. The club have also boosted their junior section, which now has 350 children taking part with 80 in the girls section.

Sir Stanley describes Locke as “the greatest player of all-time in the history of Merthyr RFC”, an accolade that he well deserves for his service.

“Merthyr is a community club and Sir Stanley Thomas and the committee have done a wonderful job. They’ve looked after me on and off the field,” said Locke.

“I’d like to thank Sir Stanley and Merthyr for the opportunity put in front of me and the life-long friends I’ve made on and off the pitch.

“I’ve played in an array of finals, league play-offs and in the cup, but probably the best achievement was getting Merthyr up from the Championship to the Premiership.”

Merthyr won the WRU Plate final at Principality Stadium in 2014 and the Division 1 East title. They were WRU Championship winners in 2016 and were then promoted to the Premiership.

“It wasn’t great money at Ponty and Merthyr doubled it for me to join them. I’ve been fortunate as we had a great squad at Pontypridd and Merthyr have built a cracking squad,” he added.

“Dale McIntosh probably moulded me into the player I am today. I’m sure a lot of boys who have been coached by him would say the same.”

Locke, who has played alongside Wales captains Ellis Jenkins and Cory Hill, as well as other capped players like Dillon Lewis, Thomas Young and Lou Reed, turned down opportunities from London Scottish and London Welsh to move to England.

“The money would have been good but I’m a home boy and thought the travel would have been too much. I’ve never had a knock on the door off a region – I would have liked the opportunity to see what I could do as a full-time player, with top training facilities, the nutrition and the support,” said Locke.

For now, the focus is firmly on Sunday’s shoot-out with the Drovers for one of the top pieces of silverware in Welsh rugby. Merthyr have had a tough season with injuries biting and Premiership high-flyers Llandovery will be favourites.

“It’s cup rugby. We probably could have beaten them in the league, but indiscipline let us down,” claimed Locke.

“We’re playing in the best stadium in the world and winning a final there is one of the greatest feelings. You don’t want to lose because it’s a tough one to swallow, so we’ll relish it, and it should be a great occasion with a big crowd.”

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