SHOOTING STAR Jack Walker feared he would be flying solo on his first trip abroad with England Knights.
The Leeds Rhinos full-back was part of the squad that jetted out of Manchester yesterday for a training camp in Brisbane ahead of the two-Test series in Papua New Guinea which begins a week tomorrow.
But Walker’s hopes of visiting Australia were in danger of being grounded by visa issues, which meant the 19-year-old faced the prospect of flying into Papua New Guinea alone.
“I didn’t think I was going to be going to Australia,” Walker confirmed.
“My visa didn’t come through until Wednesday morning.
“I got refused four or five times and Dave Rotheram [the Rugby Football League’s head of talent and player development] has done a lot of work trying to get me over there.
“We had no idea what the problem was.
“I thought I was going to fly to PNG and meet them there, by myself.
“I was buzzing when the visa arrived.”
The Knights will spend the next few days building up to what is set to be an explosive series against last year’s World Cup quarter-finalists.
Rhinos’ Ash Handley and Liam Sutcliffe are also on the tour, along with Jamie Jones-Buchanan who is communications manager.
“I am really excited to go over there and be with the top-level players,” Walker said.
“I can’t wait to get there and get started.
“It is nice to have some other Leeds lads in the squad and to mix with players from other clubs. All the lads here are great and I am looking forward to it.”
Papua New Guinea is the only country where rugby league is the national sport.
The tropical heat will add to the experience and Walker said: “We have been training in a facility where they can turn the temperature up to 30 degrees or whatever it’s going to be over there.
“I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge, playing in that heat.”
The Oulton Raiders product did not make his first-team debut until midway through 2017.
He was a Grand Final winner at the end of that season and nominated for the Betfred Super League young player of the year award in 2018, as well as winning the Yorkshire Evening Post Shooting Star prize
“I’m glad I’ve been recognised,” he said.
“I thought we started the season all right and I did personally, but then we started picking up little niggles and injuries to our top players.
“I picked up a few injuries and my main aim for next season is just to stay injury free.”
Next week’s opening Test in Lae will be the Knights’ first game since 2013. The concept has been revived specifically with the next two World Cups in mind.
Walker has an opportunity to put his name forward, but stressed: “I play the game as it comes, I don’t plan too far ahead.
“I will do my best and see what happens next year.”