GRAND FINAL try scorer Josh Walters expected to be bashed about at the weekend, but took his knocks two days earlier than expected.
He was travelling reserve for Leeds Rhinos’ Betfred Super League game at promoted Leigh Centurions and got called into the 17 at short-notice after Mitch Garbutt pulled out. That meant he had to withdraw from Featherstone Rovers’ squad to face Batley Bulldogs in the Kingstone Press Championship yesterday.
“I found out I was playing about half an hour before the warm-up,” he said of Friday’s events. “Garbs has got a bit of a sickness bug. He missed a bit of training on Wednesday, but I still thought I’d be playing for Fev this week.
“I tried to focus on that, but if you are 18th man you have got to prepare as if you’re going to play. It wasn’t too much of a problem, straight away – within two minutes – you switch on and focus on actually playing and away you go.”
Walters scored the decisive try in Leeds’ 2015 Grand Final win over Wigan Warriors, but was restricted by injury to just 13 games for Rhinos last year. He also played six times on loan for Rovers during their Qualifiers campaign.
“I didn’t expect it, but I am more than happy to pull the Rhinos shirt on,” he said following his Leeds recall. “If they give me half an hours’ notice or three weeks’ notice, either way I will give it 110 per cent and work as hard as I possibly can and thankfully we got the win.”
Under the dual-registration system, the 22-year-old forward remains full-time with Rhinos, but also trains at Featherstone as and when required.
“The only tough thing is if I go to Fev and you’ve got different calls for the same moves,” he said. “Sometimes at Fev training I’ll be shouting a Leeds call and then thinking ‘no, that’s not right’. Training with Fev on Thursday night and then coming in for Leeds on Friday it wasn’t too bad because I’ve had the same Leeds calls for about four years now.”
Rhinos trailed 8-0 after as many minutes at Leigh, but hit back to lead by seven points at half-time and were nine clear deep into the second half, before hanging on through a frantic finale to secure a 17-14 win.
“It was a tough game,” Walters reflected. “I think we made it hard for ourselves. We didn’t look after the ball well at all.
“We could have made it easier, but it was a big occasion for Leigh and they really rose to it. They put in a good performance and at the end of the day we saved a lot of tries and won the match and that’s all you can ask for.
“We had a massive pre-season and I don’t think half of us would have been able to do that last year, we wouldn’t have been fit enough or mentally fit enough, but having gone through last year and worked so hard in pre-season it has put us in good stead.”
Rhinos’ late reshuffle wasn’t ideal for Rovers, who were already without another dual-registered Leeds forward, Jack Ormondroyd, for yesterday’s game. Ormondroyd made his Super League debut off the bench at Leigh after, like Walters, playing in Featherstone’s opening two Championship fixtures.
Walters said: “He [Rovers coach Jon Sharp] was planning on playing me at prop at the weekend. I’ve had to do stints there for Rhinos and I don’t see it too much different to loose-forward. I just work hard and get my carries and most important make my tackles and try not to concede tries.”
Of his spell with Rovers, he added: “It’s good; it is playing rugby, it’s a good set of lads and I get on with the coaches Sharpy and Danny Evans.
“I really enjoy it and I am thankful for the faith they showed in me towards the end of last season after I had been out for three months. I got some good games in and I am happy to go there when they’ve got a few injuries and give my all for them.”
Meanwhile, full-back Liam Whitton scored five tries, centre and captain Jack Broadbent crossed four times and stand-off Harvey Spence landed 13 goals as Rhinos under-16s began their season with an 82-0 demolition of Newcastle Thunder at Stanningley.
Other try scorers for Leeds, who led 42-0 at half-time, were Liam Tindall, Tom Holroyd, Liam Hamill, Brad Martin and Jacob Gannon.