TEENAGE FULL-BACK Jack Walker says he is “shocked” to have gone from Leeds Rhinos’ academy side to part of the England set-up in less than a year.
Walker, 18, made his Rhinos debut last April, scoring a hat-trick in a Ladbrokes Challenge Cup win over Doncaster.
He went on to star in Leeds’ Grand Final victory over Castleford Tigers – becoming the youngest player to win a Super League title – and was a member of their World Club Challenge team a month ago.
Though he ended that game on the injury list after suffering a micro tear of the cartilage in a knee, his remarkable rise earned a call into the England Knights squad – for players outside the elite performance group – which was named by coach Paul Anderson last week.
“It was a bit of a shock,” Walker said of his international selection.
“I got a call from Paul Anderson and I didn’t expect it at all.
“I am really excited and very grateful.
“It is something I have always wanted to do and I can’t wait.”
Walker missed Rhinos’ defeat at Widnes Vikings three weeks ago owing to the injury suffered in Australia and was an unused substitute when Leeds beat Hull last Friday.
Rhinos travel to Betfred Super League leaders St Helens tomorrow and Walker confirmed: “I am all good to play. I was on the bench against Hull and didn’t get on, which was a bit disappointing, but it’s one of those things.
“I’ll just build on it, I have had another week to do more re-hab and get stronger.”
Walker is keen to make up for the agony of hobbling off in the first half of Rhinos’ defeat at Melbourne.
“I was very disappointed,” he said of the early end to his first clash with NRL opposition.
“It is a massive, massive game for me and the team. “To go off 25 minutes in, I was a bit gutted.”
Ashton Golding, who was 18th man for the World Club Challenge, has impressed at full-back in the two games since and Walker knows he may have to wait to regain his place.
“He is playing really well at the moment,” Walker observed of Rhinos’ No1.
“I am going to struggle to get back in, but I will get an opportunity at some point and I will have to make sure I make the most of it.”
Tomorrow’s hosts have an outstanding full-back in Ben Barba, who is an early favourite to be named this year’s Man of Steel and Walker is a big admirer of the former NRL player of the year.
“I have been watching a few things he does, trying to pick out all the good stuff and see if I can add it to my game,” Walker said.
“Obviously he is a world-class full-back. If I get picked I will just play my game and do what I do and just go from there.
“Every time I play I just do the best I can and each game you play you learn a little bit more.
“I’m just trying to build on my game and my performances.”