TEENAGE HOT-PROSPECT Jack Walker has given Leeds Rhinos a massive – and unexpected – boost by signing a three-year first-team contract.
Walker, 17, has put pen to paper just two weeks after Rhinos released a statement saying he had turned down a contract offer.
The deal is for the 2018-2020 seasons and is on the same terms as the one Walker previously rejected.
Also committing his long-term future to the Rhinos is Alex Sutcliffe. The academy youngster, who made his debut in the defeat at Wigan a fortnight ago, has penned a four-year deal.
Walker’s change of heart will give Rhinos a huge lift ahead of tomorrow’s Betfred Super-8s opener at home to Wigan Warriors.
The Oulton Raiders product scored a hat-trick on his debut in Rhinos’ Ladbrokes Challenge Cup win over Doncaster in April and has touched down five times in seven senior appearances.
His mature performances this year have marked him out as one of the British game’s most exciting young players and rival clubs were keen to snap him up when his academy contract ends this autumn.
Chief executive Gary Hetherington confirmed: “It is a three-year deal.
“It is the deal that was offered to Jack when we announced he had decided not to commit towards it.
“He has now entered into that agreement and will be included in Rhinos’ 25-man first-team squad for 2018.”
The stumbling block had been Walker’s desire to play full-back.
Rhinos’ 20-year-old No 1 Ashton Golding, is on a long-term contract, but Hetherington said the teenager has pledged to fight for his place.
“Jack is a very talented young player who has come through our youth system,” the Leeds chief added.
“He has the potential to make his mark in the game. He has stated his commitment to the club and his desire to progress through to our first team and he now has that opportunity.”
Speaking about his new contract, Walker said: “I know there has been a lot of speculation and I just wanted to make sure I was making the right call in committing for the next three-years.
“I’m really happy things have been finalised and becoming a full-time player with my hometown club and this group of players is a dream come true for me.”
Walker did not feature in Leeds’ side for last week’s Challenge Cup semi-final, but played at stand-off for the under-19s in a win over Widnes Vikings a week ago.
Of Rhinos’ statement two weeks ago and Walker’s change of mind, Hetherington said: “At the time we were disappointed he did not feel able to commit.
“Because it was creating so much public interest and so much misinformation as well it was important a decision had to be made and that was to be made public at that point.
“Jack has since informed the club he has a total commitment and we are very pleased to hear that.
“He has committed to trying to find his way into the first team and to competing for a place like everybody else.”
Head coach Brian McDermott added: “As a club we have always stated our commitment to developing our youngsters both as players and, perhaps more importantly, as people as well.
“Alex and Jack have both been involved in the first team this season and have seen first-hand the hard work, commitment and dedication it takes to succeed at the very top of the game.
“They are both setting out on their professional journey and the opportunity is there for them to follow in the footsteps of the many Academy graduates who have gone on to be Champions at this club.
“The common factor between all academy players who progress into regular first-team players is that they share a comment trait based on the philosophy of ‘what can I do for the club’ rather than ‘what can the club do for me’.
“The challenge for all young players is to grab that chance with both hands and do everything possible to be part of that elite group and hopefully Jack and Alex can do that now.”