WEARING THE number one shirt next season will be a “dream come true” for Leeds Rhinos youngster Jack Walker, but he reckons the hard part is holding on to it.
Walker was a Grand Final winner in 2017 – his debut campaign in Betfred Super League – and a young player of the year nominee last term, despite Rhinos being dragged into a battle against relegation.
The 19-year-old Oulton Raiders product is also the reigning Yorkshire Evening Post Shooting Star and his climb from number 24 in the previous squad suggests new coach David Furner regards him as first choice.
However, Walker will be Rhinos’ third different wearer of the number one jersey in four seasons after Zak Hardaker and 2017 Shooting Star Ashton Golding.
After two years at number one, Golding has dropped back to 21 in Rhinos’ squad list for next season, but will be pushing hard to regain his status as Rhinos’ top full-back and Walker admitted the pressure is on to perform from the opening game.
“I was really excited, I was buzzing,” he said of his new status. “It is what I’ve been working for since I was a kid.
I have got to kick on and prove I am worthy of it [the number one shirt]. That’s what I’d love to do this season.Jack Walker
“Now to reach it is a dream come true, but obviously the job is not done now.
“I have got to kick on and prove I am worthy of it. That’s what I’d love to do this season.”
Walker played 22 times last season, one more than Golding and knows the 22-year-old will be snapping at his heels.
“Just like I was with him last season,” he said. “We work together in training. I have got stuff in my game that he needs and vice-versa. We are always pushing each other to make each other better and obviously if I’m not playing well Ashton is there and he is ready to go so you can’t get complacent, you have got to keep your guard up.”
Both full-backs have returned to Rhinos for pre-season from international duty. Golding, who also filled in as substitute acting-half and on the left-wing last season, helped Jamaica qualify for the 2021 World Cup while Walker was a member of the England Knights squad which toured Papua New Guinea for a drawn two-Test series.
“It was a big eye-opener,” Walker reflected of his time with the Knights. “It [Test level] is where I hope to be so you have to try and impress, the same as over here – you have got to keep working hard.”
Walker’s Knights call-up was an indication he is in the England management’s long-term plans which is yet more incentive to impress at training and in Super League.
“I am still young, but I want to keep striving,” he stressed.
“Even though I’ve got the number one shirt now I want to keep pushing on and obviously there’s a Great Britain tour [next year] so if I have a good season I don’t see why I can’t be involved in that.”
Walker has been named in Rhinos’ squad to face Wakefield Trinity in the Boxing Day Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge and insisted he is itching to get back into the on-field action.
He admitted: “I love training, but I want to be playing.
“I am working on trying to get faster and a bit bigger and training is going really good at the minute, especially with the new signings and the new coach.
“We have got a few new additions to the team and people playing in different positions so I think it [Boxing Day] will be a good marker to see where we are at and the things we need to work on.”