'He can get back as a top-line rugby player' - Leeds Rhinos boss Richard Agar pledges care and support for injury victim Jack Walker
He is facing a long, hard road to recovery, but Leeds Rhinos’ medical staff are confident full-back Jack Walker can regain his best fitness and form.
The 21-year-old has battled injuries since making his Rhinos debut in 2017.
He suffered knee, ankle and hamstring problems in 2018 and had surgery on a shoulder at the end of the following campaign.
He began 2020 in blistering form, but suffered a foot injury in a win over Warrington Wolves on February 28.
Walker made a comeback last September and underwent a successful operation on a shoulder in the off-season, but a recurrence of his foot problem has put him back on the casualty list and he is expected to miss all of this year’s Betfred Super League campaign.
That was shattering news for Walker, who has featured 66 times for Leeds - scoring 21 tries - after recovering from a fractured skull suffered playing junior rugby for Oulton.
He was awarded the number one jersey in 2019 and is highly rated by Rhinos’ management, including coach Richard Agar.
The latest injury is a setback for him and the team, but Agar confirmed Rhinos’ medics are “still extremely confident in terms of percentages that he can get back as a top-line rugby player”.
The coach said: “He is 21, so has time on his side.
“It is important we give him that love and care and support and nurture him through what is going to be a tough rehabilitation over the next six months.”
Agar said Rhinos will rally around Walker as he battles back.
“It is really difficult for Jack and we are trying to show him as much support as we can at this moment,” Agar insisted.
“To have his season finished again, on the back of what happened to him last year, he has had a relatively chequered injury history, particularly around his shoulders.
“Part of our remit this year is to try and get some extra bulk on him and make him a bit more robust, particularly as a smaller full-back and the type of game he plays.
“He is a very competitive player and bravery and courage are right at the top of Jack’s assets.
“We were trying to not rush him back and make sure we got the right physical gains on him.”
Agar stressed: “His operation was successful last year.
“He came back and the surgeon was perfectly happy to give him the green light to play.
“Unfortunately, the part of his foot that broke is a vulnerable part.
“The operation has repaired it and when they use the term ‘it has failed’, it has not failed because it was done wrong or something has gone amiss with his rehab’.
“Basically, it was in a delicate part of his foot and with some metal work in there, the stresses on it have caused it to go again and that has happened in the off-season.
“He was feeling uncomfortable, our physios weren’t happy with it so we got him in for further tests and it is the worst news, unfortunately.”
It is not yet known if Walker - who was capped by England Knights in 2018 - will need surgery.
Agar added: “He is currently speaking to surgeons and specialists about the best course of action, whether we go down a surgical route or if there’s an alternative to that.
“Either way, it is going to be a lengthy process for him.”
Walker was set to be Rhinos’ first-choice full-back this year, with Richie Myler - who covered for him last season - challenging Rob Lui and Luke Gale for a place in the halves.
Now Lui has also joined the long-term casualty list, after suffering a quad tear in training, Myler is likely to play at full-back, if both Gale - who is recovering from a pectoral muscle problem - and Callum McLelland, following off-season ankle surgery, are both given the all clear.
Rhinos have also boosted their options in the halves by bringing ex-St Helens star Kyle Eastmond back to rugby league following a decade in union.
Leeds’ other option as their last line of defence is winger Ash Handley, who was Super League’s leading try scorer last year.
Handley played once at full-back in 2020 and has done some practice there during pre-season.
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