TEENAGER Jack Walker felt he had to “make a statement” ahead of earning the man-of-the-match award in Leeds Rhinos’ thrilling 24-22 win over St Helens.
The 17-year-old full-back featured for just the fourth time with the club on Thursday but delivered a fine performance as Brian McDermott’s depleted side held on at the death.
Walker had been an unused replacement during the previous week’s home defeat against Castleford Tigers but given a start with Ashton Golding still injured he produced a super 80 minutes for someone so young.
“Obviously, they were going to target a young lad at full-back and they did do that,” he said.
“But I felt I dealt with that quite well. I did well under the high ball and felt comfortable, building in confidence every time I caught it and I grew through the game.
“I’m building from obviously not getting on against Cas. I really had to go make a statement really try and get that position again for our next game against Salford.
“It was brilliant to be out there and to get the two points was massive for us.”
Walker made a try-scoring debut in the Challenge Cup win over Doncaster in April and with his aptitude in both attack and defence clearly has a bright future.
He hails from the Oulton Raiders club in Leeds – the same as Ryan Hall, the England winger whose 73rd-minute try sealed Rhinos’ win.
Hall, 29, admitted: “Jack is a great player and prospect, that’s for certain, while obviously an Oulton Raiders lad like myself.
“In fact, our back three with Ash Handley as well are all from there so that’s credit to the club and well done Oulton.
“Jack’s got a bright future ahead of him. It was a mature performance and let’s hope he has a mature head off the field as well as sometimes that can get to players.
“I don’t want to jinx him or lead him into anything by any stretch of the imagination but he is that good that he needs to be very grounded and work hard.”
Hall, who debuted for Leeds aged 19, added: “I think the more information you try pass on to someone who has a million things going through his head already, it’s just going to come out wrong. So it’s just ‘do your thing’ and he certainly did that against Saints.”
Hall will be back at Oulton tomorrow to kick-off a charity match against a National Conference All Stars team.
Former Super League players such as Matt Calland and Jamie Benn will be playing for a side coached by Hull FC chief Lee Radford. A full day of events is planned from 11am. Entry is free with proceeds going to Candlelighters, a charity who look after young children in Yorkshire who have been diagnosed with cancer.