IT HAS been a stop-start campaign so far for Leeds Rhinos teenager Jack Walker, but he has pledged to make up for lost time – beginning this afternoon.
Walker is set to make his first appearance of the Qualifiers when Hull KR visit Emerald Headingley.
A series of injury niggles have restricted him to 18 appearances this year and he has not played since the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final loss to Warrington Wolves four weeks ago.
The full-back, who was a Grand Final winner last year, has endured a tough second season after his breakthrough in 2017, but says he is ready to end it on a high.
“I stretched a nerve in my hamstring and there was a little tear in there,” he said of his latest setback.
“It has been very frustrating this year, from when we played Melbourne in the World Club Challenge.
“I did my knee, then my ankle and now my hamstring so I’ve been having no luck. Hopefully that should change.”
Walker is confident of being given the all-clear to feature today after being named in Rhinos under-19s to play at Wigan Warriors last Saturday.
That game was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch and Walker said: “Some of the parents travelled all the way there, they didn’t know it was called off.
“They looked at the pitch and said it was fine, so I’ve no idea. It was disappointing, it would have been good to play before Hull KR, but it is what it is.”
Now back in the senior squad, Walker reckons a strong finish to the season would make up for his earlier disappointments.
Rhinos have five games left and three more wins should be enough to secure their Betfred Super League status for next year.
Wins over Toulouse Olympique and London Broncos – who were third and second in the lower division – have given Rhinos a steady start, but three of their final matches are against top-flight opposition.
Rovers lost at home to Salford Red Devils in their opening game, but bounced back with a hard-fought win at Toronto Wolfpack a fortnight ago.
“We’ve had a tough season,” reflected Walker. “Changing coaches and stuff as well hasn’t helped, but we haven’t been good enough.
“We want to finish strong. It [today’s match] is a massive test for us.
“We’ve played two Championship sides and we’ve been good, but we haven’t been as good as we can be. We will have to be on our game against Hull KR.”
Rhinos completed a home-and-away double against the Robins in Super League, winning 20-11 at Elland Road in February and 20-18 when they visited KCOM Craven Park two months later.
Since then Rhinos have won only two of 13 meetings with top-flight opposition in all competitions, both against Widnes Vikings.
Adding spice to today’s clash will be Danny McGuire’s first return to Headingley as an away player. Walker played alongside McGuire in last year’s Old Trafford win over Castleford Tigers and admitted it will be a strange experience for everyone.
“I’ll just play my normal game, as I always do,” he said. “I’ll probably give him a little dig in a tackle!
“Me and Magsy are good mates and I am looking forward to playing against him. He helped me out a lot last year, when I didn’t drive he brought me in to training and he helped me on the field with tactics and stuff as well.
“He was massive when I first came through.”
McGuire will be the main danger man for a Hull KR team who finished 10th in Super League, one place below Rhinos, but scored 35 more points than Leeds.
“You never know what to expect when Magsy’s got hold of the ball,” Walker admitted. “We will be on our toes and we’ll do our best.
“If everyone does their job right and does it well we should have no problems, but collectively as a team we need to play well.”
Rhinos have scored 48 points in each of their opening two Qualifiers, but conceded 22 to Toulouse and 32 against London.
“I’ve watched the game back and I thought we took our foot off the gas in the last 20 minutes,” Walker said of the win in the capital.
“But in the first half I thought our attack was outstanding. It’s just about keeping our foot on the gas and keeping going.”