LEEDS RHINOS’ teenage full-back Jack Walker admits he needs to raise his game when he comes up against the best in the business tomorrow.
Australian sensation Ben Barba will be the star attraction when Betfred Super League leaders St Helens visit Emerald Headingley.
Saints’ full-back is the red-hot favourite to be crowned Man of Steel this year and Walker is relishing coming up against him for the second time, after Leeds’ shock away win three months ago, when he was among Rhinos’ substitutes.
But the 18-year-old wasn’t happy with the way he played in last Friday’s 25-18 home loss to Huddersfield Giants and insisted, if selected, he needs to be better tomorrow.
“Obviously he is a very good player and he is at the top of his game,” Walker said of Barba, who celebrated his 29th birthday yesterday.
“He is playing very well, but we dealt with him all right the last time we played them and we are looking to do the same again.”
He is playing very well, but we dealt with him all right the last time we played them and we are looking to do the same again.Jack Walker on Ben Barba
Barba was the NRL’s player of the year in 2012 and has lit up Super League this season, topping the competition’s try chart with 19. “I’d say he is the best in the competition at the moment, over here,” Walker added.
“I watch clips and I am always learning things off him.”
Reflecting on his own form, Walker admitted: “I’ve had a few good games.
“I played well against Leigh [in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup two weeks ago], but I have got quite a few things to work on in defence from the game against Huddersfield. I thought I had a bad game so I’ll have to step up this week.”
A Grand Final winner last year, Walker has played in 11 of Rhinos’ 19 matches this season.
He was injured in the World Club Challenge defeat at Melbourne Storm in February and again against Huddersfield Giants the following month. He also suffered a knock in the derby clash with Castleford Tigers at May’s Magic Weekend and that is still having an impact, he revealed.
“I clashed knees with Adam Milner,” he said of that setback.
“The physios have said it’s bruising to the bone.
“It is swollen, every time I get a hit on it it swells up.
“It is just a pain thing, the physio said when I first did it, without doing anything it would take two or three weeks to settle down.
“Obviously I am training every day and playing and I get a whack on it on a regular basis.
“It’s just one of those where I have to hope I get lucky and not get a whack on it and it should settle down.”
Rhinos have dropped to seventh in Super League and will go into tomorrow’s game on a run of four successive defeats.
Saints have lost only twice this year, to Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity.
And Walker observed: “They are top of the league and playing really well at the moment.
“But there’s no pressure on us so we can just go out and do what we need to do. If we get that right I don’t see why we wouldn’t come out of the game with a win.”