GRAND FINAL hero Josh Walters will go into the new season with fresh confidence after his dream ending to 2015.
Walters broke into Leeds Rhinos’ first team two years ago, just 12 months after switching codes from rugby union.
After an impressive debut campaign he struggled to make the same impact last season, but was a surprise call-up for the Old Trafford showdown with Wigan Warriors and repaid boss Brian McDermott’s faith by scoring the decisive try just moments after entering the action.
Walters’ touchdown, only his second of the year, levelled the scores and set up Kevin Sinfield’s conversion which secured Rhinos a 22-20 victory and completed their historic clean sweep of domestic trophies. It was Walters’ ninth substitute appearance of the campaign – with one start – and his first taste of a major final.
“At times last year I was doubting whether I was even going to play again before the end of the season,” he admitted.
“For Mac (head coach Brian McDermott) to show faith in me and put me in the Grand Final team and then give me big minutes again in the Boxing Day game, it all builds confidence.
“I am still fairly new to the game, I am still learning with every step.
“You have just got to keep moving forward and hopefully I’ll be all right.”
Walters came to Headingley as a rugby union player with Yorkshire Carnegie and did not play his first serious game of rugby league until 2013.
It has been a rapid progression, but he knows he is still behind most of his colleagues in terms of knowledge of the game.
“This is my second professional pre-season,” he said.
“I am still getting used to it, but I love doing it.
“I am doing it with a smile on my face and that helps, because if you love doing something it’s not really work.
“I am still getting used to the game and still learning every week and that is all I can do.”
Walters, 21, made seven appearances – all but one in the starting team – for Hunslet Hawks on dual-registration last term.
He has been named at loose-forward in Rhinos’ line-up to face the Kingstone Press League One outfit in the Lazenby Cup tonight and is looking to carry on from the game time he got under his belt against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats on Boxing Day.
“That was good for me,” he said. “It was tough conditions, against a big Wakefield set.
“They were a decent team who have improved a lot from last year, so it was a bit of a slog out there.
“I certainly felt it in my first spell, but got going in my second.
“I really enjoyed it and the fitness we have been doing in pre-season showed.
“We hadn’t done that many field sessions, so we were still getting used to things, but in pre-season it is good to get minutes under your belt.”
There is less than a month to go until Rhinos begin the defence of their First Utility Super League title at home to Warrington Wolves on February 4.
Having won everything last year, Rhinos will be the team everybody wants to beat, but Walters insisted the champions are only looking ahead.
“It is about forgetting last year now,” Walters stressed.
“It is a great achievement to win the treble and it was fantastic to play a small part in that, but we have got to put it behind us.
“It is a new-look team now. There’s a lot of younger lads and we all need to step up to the plate this year.
“It is going to be hard to get in the team.
“It was hard last year and it’s not going to be any different.
“I have got to get my head down and keep working hard.”
Hunslet Hawks: from Elliott, Mapals, Duckworth, Mvududu, Barnett, Brown, Ansell, Haley, Lee, Reed, Normington, Crane, Mackay, Flanagan, Tebb, Bell, Buttery, Carbutt, Darby, Milburn, Watson.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Handley, Brierley, Keinhorst, Jones, Sanderson, Lilley, Garbutt, Brady, Baldwinson, Achurch, Jordan-Roberts, Walters. Subs: Wray, Flynn, Norfolk, Smith, Hallas, Oledzki, Barker.
Referee: Joanthan Roberts (Leeds).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.