FIT-AGAIN FULL-BACK Jack Walker was pleased with his Leeds Rhinos return, but feels he will get better with more games under his belt.
Walker has had an injury-disrupted start to the season, but played the full 80 minutes of Rhinos’ nervy 23-20 Ladbrokes Challenge Cup sixth round win at Widnes Vikings.
That was only the 18-year-old’s seventh senior game this year.
He suffered a knee injury in the World Club Challenge loss to Melbourne Storm three months ago, which kept him out of action for one game and then missed six after damaging an ankle in the Good Friday draw at Huddersfield Giants.
After coming through a comeback match in the under-19s, he started against Widnes and his goal line defence was an important factor in Rhinos’ victory, though he also made an error leading to a try for the home side.
Making his return on Widnes’ controversial i-pitch might have been a gamble, but Walker confirmed: “My ankle pulled through good.
It is good to get the minutes under my belt, now I can push on for the Magic Weekend.Jack Walker
“It is good to get the minutes under my belt, now I can push on for the Magic Weekend.”
Of his performance, he added: “I thought I was a bit rusty, to be fair.
“There’s still a lot of things to work on.
“There were a good few things I got right, that I’ve been working on, so I thought it went all right.
“It wasn’t as good as I can be, I know that, but it was a decent performance.”
Walker reckons the game in Leeds’ academy, when he played 40 minutes against Warrington Wolves, helped ease him back, but last Friday was a big step up in class.
“It is a completely different ball game [in the first team],” he added. “In the 19s it’s not as fast a pace and the physicality of it is not the same.”
The Cup win was Rhinos’ first victory at Halton Stadium since 2014, ending a run of four successive defeats there.
Leeds were never behind, but endured a tense final half an hour after building a commanding 23-4 lead.
“A win’s a win,” Walker reflected. “We hadn’t won there for a while and that was a big focus going into the game. You build on that.
“We will take a lot of positives out of it, but also we’ve got a fair few things to work on and when we do that I see us going real good.”
Rhinos have played well only in patches this year and struggled to close games out when they get into a lead. Walker believes when they fix that up, they will be tough to beat.
“We get the momentum and we go on and score a fair few tries, then we take the foot off the gas,” he said.
“We just need to work on keeping out foot down and going on and scoring more.
“When you get the momentum it’s hard to defend against.” Rhinos will face a huge test on Saturday when they take on Castleford Tigers at Newcastle’s St James’s Park
“This will be my first one, I am really excited,” said Walker of the Magic Weekend. “Obviously it’s another big occasion and I can’t wait. I am excited to get all these big occasions under my belt.”
Second-rower Carl Ablett is expected to miss the game in five days’ time due to an ankle injury suffered at Widnes. He is being assessed, but initial indications are he could be sidelined for around a month.
Winger Ryan Hall sat out the Cup tie because of a shoulder problem.
Coach Brian McDermott said: “He had a slight dislocation of his shoulder. Apparently he used to do it as a kid, as a party trick!
“Now he’s paying for it because his shoulder comes out all the time apparently, but he could be available [for Saturday].”
Second-rower Brett Delaney could also return, but props Brad Singleton and Mitch Garbutt and centre Liam Sutcliffe remain on the casualty list.