LEEDS RHINOS’ newest try-scoring hero says his sensational debut justified the decision to stick with rugby league after an horrific accident on the pitch four years ago.
Jack Walker, 17, became only the eighth Leeds player to score a hat-trick on his first appearance for the club in last Friday’s 64-28 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup fifth-round win over Doncaster.
There were fears Walker would not play again after he suffered a fractured skull playing for Oulton Invaders under-14s.
But the full-back/half-back persisted and was signed to Rhinos’ scholarship before joining the academy two years ago.
“It was 2013 when I suffered the injury,” he recalled. “I was playing full-back, against Hunslet Warriors.
“They made a break down the blind side, I went in for a tackle and I’ve been told I got a knee to the head.
“I got knocked out, my eyes went back and I had a seizure on the pitch. I woke up on the pitch and, waiting for the ambulance, I couldn’t feel the right side of my body.
“When I got in the ambulance I threw up, but I felt fine after that.
“The main thing on my mind afterwards has been aiming for [his debut] for a very long time.
“It’s all I’ve been working for – it’s what all the hard work has been about.
“A lot of people told me to think of a different career, but I just kept with rugby and it has been worthwhile.”
Walker’s man-of-the-match performance earned praise from Rhinos coach Brian McDermott and his Doncaster opposite number Gary Thornton.
“If Brian Mac’s talking about me it gives me a lot of confidence and I just need to push on and do the best I can,” Walker said.
A student at Leeds City College, Park Lane, where he is studying to be a personal trainer, Walker found out he was in the team the day before the game. He was also 18th man for Rhinos’ Easter Monday win over Widnes Vikings at Headingley.
With Ashton Golding and Liam Sutcliffe suffering injuries against Hull three days earlier and Jimmy Keinhorst and Carl Ablett already ruled out, Walker was pulled from the under-19s’ game at Huddersfield Giants and placed on stand-by.
He warmed up with the team last Monday and was in contention up until the last minute when Tom Briscoe, who had been struggling with a dead leg, was cleared to play.
Briscoe was not risked against Doncaster and that gave Walker his opportunity.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to me, scoring three tries on my debut,” Walker added.
“On Monday I was a bit gutted not to be playing. Tom Briscoe pulled through, but it gave me a little taste of it doing the warm-up.
“I have been working hard, doing extras before and after training and that has paid off.
“I trained with the first team a couple of sessions before Monday’s game and then on Thursday.
“The lads are all supportive and they helped me out a lot.
“They all signed the ball [after Friday’s game] and gave me the man of the match. They told me I had to make a speech, but I didn’t!
“I’m working hard every training session and I’ll see what comes up; if the first team want me to play with them I’ll do a job or if it’s 19s, I’ll step in and help out.”
Walker – a Rhinos fan and former season-ticket holder for the Carnegie Terrace – was one of three Oulton Raiders products in Leeds’ backline three days ago, alongside wingers Ash Handley and Ryan Hall and paid tribute to his amateur club for the start they gave him in the game..
“It’s a great club Oulton,” Walker said.
“Steve Fox had a massive influence and helped me out a lot.He trains the scholarship under-15s and 16s here.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos under-19s trailed 16-12 at half-time against London Broncos, but hit back to win 58-20.
Harry Newman, Reece Chapman-Smith and Harvey Whiteley each bagged a brace and other try scorers were Alfie Goddard, Josh Jordan-Roberts, Cameron Smith and Tyler Dupree.
Tom Schofield kicked nine goals.