Could former No 1 Jack Walker make Leeds Rhinos return following Bradford Bulls move?

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Grand Final winner Jack Walker has refused to rule out a Leeds Rhinos return following his move to Bradford Bulls.

Walker was one of the hottest properties in the game when he helped Rhinos to victory over Castleford Tigers at Old Trafford in 2017, aged just 18, but a horrific run of injuries over the past three seasons derailed his top-flight career.

A fractured foot caused him to miss most of 2020 and he did not play at all the following year after a recurrence in pre-season.

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He returned 12 months ago and featured in Rhinos opening nine competitive games of 2022, but suffered hamstring damage in April.

Jack Walker's last appearance for Rhinos was in a draw with Huddersfield at Headingley last April.
Picture by Bruce Rollinson.Jack Walker's last appearance for Rhinos was in a draw with Huddersfield at Headingley last April.
Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Jack Walker's last appearance for Rhinos was in a draw with Huddersfield at Headingley last April. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

After that cleared up he was loaned to Hull to regain match fitness and produced several impressive performances before picking up an ankle injury in August which ended his campaign.

Walker, now 23, had a year remaining on his Rhinos deal, but was released in October to join Betfred Championship outfit Bradford Bulls on a 12-month deal.

There is little doubt Walker, who will be back at Headingley on Sunday when Rhinos take on Bulls in a pre-season derby, will be in demand by top-flight clubs if he can prove his injury woes are behind him.

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And asked if he could see himself coming back to Rhinos in the future, he insisted: “Never say never, if it’s the right choice, why not?”

Jack Walker played for Rhinos against his new club Bradford in a pre-season game at Odsal last January. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.Jack Walker played for Rhinos against his new club Bradford in a pre-season game at Odsal last January. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Jack Walker played for Rhinos against his new club Bradford in a pre-season game at Odsal last January. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Walker stressed: “I didn’t leave on bad terms, whatever happened happened. I am enjoying myself at Bradford and just want to get playing.

“There’s no issues with Leeds at all, Leeds gave me my debut and made my dream come true so I could never have a bad word to say about Leeds.”

Walker will be one of the most talented young players in the second tier this year, but pledged not to give up on top-flight rugby - here or in Australia.

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“That’s always the goal,” he said. “I want to go for the best, the top league. I have still got that dream to go to the NRL which I had at 17.

Jack Walker leaves the field after suffering an ankle injury playing on loan for Hull against St Helens last August. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.Jack Walker leaves the field after suffering an ankle injury playing on loan for Hull against St Helens last August. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
Jack Walker leaves the field after suffering an ankle injury playing on loan for Hull against St Helens last August. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

“I always want to strive for the top and obviously the NRL is the best. This is not a step back, it’s just another stepping stone to hopefully achieving my goals.”

The last three years have been traumatic for Walker and his two failed comebacks last term were tough to handle, but he has refused to be beaten.

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“I’ve just got to try and take the positives out of it,” he reflected. “The two years previous to last year, I played two or three games. Last year I played 15, which isn’t great, but was a lot better than I expected.

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“Hopefully I can have an injury-free season. The main thing is just staying on the field, everything else will take care of itself.

“I don’t think anyone’s doubting my ability, it’s just doubting me staying in the field. That’s what this year is mainly about, staying on the field and trying to deliver good performances every single week.”

The signs so far are positive. Walker played in Bull’s win at Dewsbury Rams earlier this month and vowed: “I am fully fit and ready to go.

“It has been a good pre-season, I have been looked after really well and my body feels good.

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“I’ve not done much on the fitness side; I’ve done what’s needed, just not pushing my body to the limit, to the point where it’s going to break.

“Mark [Dunning, Bulls’ coach] and the staff understand what I’ve been through in the past three years and I don’t think I’ll need to be as fit as I would in Super League so I can afford not to do the odd fitness session here and there. I just want to get going now, I am fed up of training and want to see what I can do.”

Walker made his initial comeback last year for Leeds in a warm-up game at Bradford and admitted “it will be strange” being on the other side this weekend.

“I am excited,” he said. “It’ll be good to play against the Leeds boys, I am still pretty close to a few of them so I’ll be playing against my pals.

“There’s going to be a fair bit of banter. No doubt I’ll get my face thrown in the mud, but I am looking forward to it.”