TEENAGE prodigy Jack Walker wants to cement himself a place with Leeds Rhinos in 2018 – and knows Ashton Golding will challenge him all the way.
Full-back Walker became the youngest-ever Grand Final winner when – aged just 18 years and 60 days – he helped Leeds beat Castleford Tigers at Old Trafford in October.
Remarkably, it was only his 12th senior game but he handled the occasion with real class and maturity.
Walker was preferred to Golding, the club’s other talented young full-back who – only 21 himself – had played most of the campaign for Brian McDermott’s side.
Both having signed long-term contracts at Headingley, it seems they will now be battling each other for the custodian role for some time.
Walker, who scored a hat-trick on debut in the Challenge Cup tie versus Doncaster in April, admitted: “Me and Ashton are good mates and we push each other.
“He’s got things in his game that I need and I’ve got stuff in my game that he needs so we’ll just keep pushing each other.
“When it comes to game day, you then just go out and do your best and it’s up to Mac who gets the nod.
“My big thing for next year is mainly just to play as many games as possible and get as many as I can under my belt to develop my performances.
“I just want to get better really.”
On that historic Grand Final appearance when the ex-Oulton Raiders junior surpassed team-mate Stevie Ward’s record – he was 18 years and 324 days when he helped Rhinos beat Warrington Wolves in the 2012 Grand Final – Walker recalled he was not perturbed by the whirlwind feel around it all.
“I just take everything as it is; for me every game is just another game,” he said.
“Obviously it was a big occasion, the crowd and things like that, but I just went with it.
“Now I just want a big pre-season. I want to get faster, bigger and stronger while my goalline D (defence) is something I definitely want to improve.”
Walker admits he has been keeping a close eye recently on Australia legend Billy Slater, the illustrious veteran full-back who shone again in the World Cup.
“I grew up watching Danny McGuire and then recently Zak Hardaker,” he said.
“I never really watched Australians.
“I knew Billy Slater and how good he was.
“It’s only recently I’ve been watching how he plays and just trying to get little tips from him. He’s a very good player.”
Walker, who thought about leaving his hometown club earlier this year before signing a new three-year deal in August, has played at half-back earlier in his fledgling career but does not see that as a long-term option.
“I’ve switched between full-back and half-back before,” said the player, who hopes to feature against Wakefield Trinity on Boxing Day.
“It’s not that I don’t want to play half-back – I’d play anywhere for the team – but I feel I get the best out of myself from full-back.
“If they needed me to so I’d do the best I can.”