IT IS not often the 18th man gets called into action but Josh Walters did so for Leeds Rhinos on Friday – which then had a knock-on effect for Featherstone Rovers yesterday.
The back-row was called up at late notice for Leeds’s 17-14 win at Leigh Centurions which scuppered the plans of Featherstone head coach Jon Sharp who had hoped to play him on dual-registration against Batley Bulldogs at the weekend.
Walters got the nod after Australian prop Mitch Garbutt ruled himself out with sickness shortly before kick-off and duly helped Leeds to their first Super League win of the season.
“I found out I was playing about half an hour before the warm-up,” he said.
“Garbs has got a bit of a sickness bug. He missed a bit of training on Wednesday, but I still thought I’d be playing for Fev this week.
“I tried to focus on that, but if you are 18th man you have got to prepare as if you’re going to play.
“It wasn’t too much of a problem, straight away – within two minutes – you switch on and focus on actually playing and away you go.”
Walters scored the decisive try in Leeds’s 2015 Grand Final win over Wigan Warriors, but was restricted by injury to just 13 games for Rhinos last year. He also played six times on loan for Rovers during their Qualifiers campaign.
“I didn’t expect it, but I am more than happy to pull the Rhinos shirt on,” he said following his Leeds recall.
“If they give me half an hours’ notice or three weeks’ notice, either way I will give it 110 per cent and work as hard as I possibly can and thankfully we got the win.”
Walters’s defensive qualities came to the fore as he helped Brian McDermott’s side hold on in a physical battle at newly-promoted Leigh.
Leeds had conceded two tries in the opening eight minutes to trail 8-0 but eventually forged ahead and spent most of the second period defending their own line.
In a thrilling finish, Rhinos twice produced try-saving tackles at the death before Liam Sutcliffe’s 40/20 kick finally relieved the pressure.
“It was a tough game,” conceded Walters, who hopes to have done enough to warrant a place when Salford Red Devils arrive at Headingley this Friday.
“I think we made it hard for ourselves. We didn’t look after the ball well at all.
“We could have made it easier, but it was a big occasion for Leigh and they really rose to it.
“They put in a good performance and at the end of the day we saved a lot of tries and won the match and that’s all you can ask for.
“We had a massive pre-season and I don’t think half of us would have been able to do that last year, we wouldn’t have been fit enough or mentally fit enough.
“But having gone through last year and worked so hard in pre-season it’s put us in good stead.”
Meanwhile, Jack Ormondroyd, another Leeds player who featured in Featherstone’s opening two Championship games, successfully made his Super League debut off the bench at Leigh.