Young forward Sam Walters targets first-team breakthrough at Leeds Rhinos
ACADEMY PLAYER of the year Sam Walters is aiming to make 2020 his breakthrough season with Leeds Rhinos.
The 6ft 5ins forward joined Rhinos from Widnes Vikings in March after impressing for England academy in last winger’s Test series whitewash of Australian Schoolboys.
He made one appearance in the Betfred Championship for Batley Bulldogs during a loan spell last season and Super League is his next target.
“I want to get my debut and then try and get a handful of games,” Walters – who turned 19 today – said of his aims for next year. “I think that’s what I need now going forward. I thought I was unlucky last season, maybe, not to get it, but my form at certain times wasn’t as good as I needed it to be.”
Walters initially joined Rhinos’ academy, but has been included as number 27 in the full-time squad for next term.
He said: “I am not really playing for the number on my back, more the badge on the front. It’s good for me to get the first team number more than the 27, that doesn’t really bother me.
“Hopefully it is my first stepping stone, it is my first squad number and whatever I do this year I just hope I build on it.”
The guard is changing in Rhinos’ back-row with Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Carl Ablett both having retired at the end of last season.
Experienced trio Alex Mellor, Rhyse Martin and Stevie Ward are all ahead of Walters in the pecking order and he admitted: “I have got two internationals in front of me and Alex has come in and been a great asset to the team.
“I am learning bit by bit from them and trying to adapt my game. I want to show Rich [Agar, Rhinos’ coach] I can offer something else as well, not just be like a line-running back-rower, I want to show my offload game.”
Rhinos paid Widnes a fee for Walters and fellow forward Jarrod O’Connor after being hit by a financial crisis following relegation from Super League.
“It’s good to see them [Widnes] back on their feet now,” he said. “It was good for me to settle in here with the under-19s first instead of going straight into the first team environment.
“That has given me a bit of time to adapt to the surroundings, all the lads have been good to me this year and there’s a good bond in the camp.
“All the young lads are hungry and we are here to play, we’re not here to make up the numbers. We want to show what we’ve got and hopefully get some games.
“There’s a lot of us who’ve played together for England academy and, going forward, if we can keep that together we can build on it and be the core of this club for a number of years to come.”
Rhinos’ competitive season begins at home to Hull FC on February 2 and preparations are stepping up. Walters added: “We’re in the thick of it now, getting towards the back end when we are starting to prepare for games more. I think the skill as a group has come along massively and we’re just getting into that team mentality now.”
Though not included in Rhinos’ squad for tomorrow’s Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge against Wakefield Trinity, Walters is hoping to feature at some stage in pre-season. He said: “I’ll have to see what opportunity there is. Obviously there’s a lot of back-rowers at the club and a lot of combinations that Rich will want to try, but hopefully I’ll get a shot.”