Leeds Rhinos v Catalans Dragons – No worries for Jack Walker as he looks to boost Rhinos for lift-off
THIS SEASON has been grim for Leeds Rhinos as a team and an injury nightmare as far as their England Knights full-back Jack Walker is concerned.
After missing only one of Leeds’ opening 10 matches, the 19-year-old has sat out eight of the last 11.
He suffered a shoulder injury in a loss at Hull KR in April, then damaged a hamstring on his comeback later that month and suffered a recurrence when he returned again at the Magic Weekend in May.
But Walker was back in the side for last week’s 36-10 defeat at St Helens, got through unscathed and has been named in the squad to face visitors Catalans Dragons tomorrow at the start of what he hopes will be a successful finale to the campaign for him and the team.
“It was really good to be back,” Walker said. “It has been frustrating, I don’t think anyone likes to sit on the sidelines and watch, especially when your team is losing.
“That makes it even harder, but we had to take our time. It’s the third time my hamstring has gone so we made sure we got it right and that showed in the Saints game when I got through all right.
“I hope it will be all right for the rest of the season now. Hamstrings can go at any time, but I am doing extra work on it after training and making sure it’s right.”
Full-backs need to combine well with fellow pivots in a team, including the half-backs and hooker. Rhinos began this season with Tui Lolohea at stand-off, Cameron Smith and Callum McLelland have both had a game there - though Walker did not feature in either of those - and Liam Sutcliffe has been the regular number six since March. New signing Robert Lui is set to take over tomorrow, which means Walker having to adapt yet again.
“He is looking really good,” Walker said of the former Salford Red Devils star. “When Tui came in I had to know how he works and play off him and that’s what it has been about this week. I am just getting to know how he plays, but he has been really good in training.”
Rhinos also have a new hooker with Shaun Lunt having come in from Hull KR in place of Matt Parcell.
“He is really good,” Walker added of the 32-year-old. “He is a little bit older so he has got that experience you need. Hopefully that will help us get the wins.”
Changes have been made to Rhinos’ playing group in the face of a desperate situation with Leeds now two points adrift at the foot of the table. That makes today’s game in hand a must-win, but Rhinos won’t put any extra pressure on themselves, according to Walker.
“It has been like this for a while,” he pointed out. “Every game seems to be an important game.
“Obviously we’ve got the game plan and if we stick to that I don’t see why we can’t win.”
Though Rhinos’ fight to stay in Betfred Super League is becoming a bigger story than the race for the league trophy, Walker insisted it is not something the players are focusing on.
“I don’t think there’s any talk of that,” he said of potential relegation. “I am not worried and I don’t think anyone else is worried. I feel like we are getting better each week.
“There’s little things that don’t go our way in a game and if we can put certain things right I don’t see why we can’t creep back up the table.”
Home form will be crucial for Rhinos if they do stay up. They began the year with four successive away matches, during rebuilding work at Emerald Headingley and as a consequence of that seven of their last 10 are on their own turf.
“It is always good to play on our home ground,” Walker stated. “With our fans behind us that’s going to help us out.”
Catalans will go into tomorrow’s game on a dismal run of form.
Since their Magic Weekend win over Wakefield Trinity last month they have suffered three successive defeats in Super League and been knocked out of the Coral Challenge Cup.
During that four-match losing sequence they have conceded 165 points and scored only 34 and they are coming off the back of an embarrassed 50-10 home drubbing by Hull a week ago. Despite that, Walker said Rhinos are preparing for the best of Catalans.
The French side showed what they are capable of earlier in the year when they climbed to third in the table and Walker stressed: “We have got to come with our A-game. Any team on the day can turn you over. We are not in great form at the moment either, but we will just go out and do a job.”