16 Dec 2021

Walker on the comeback trail

Jack Walker has had very little luck over the past two years. After bursting onto the scene in 2017 - winning a Betfred Super League Grand Final in his debut season at the Rhinos - he had the world firmly at his feet.

Things came to an abrupt halt for Walker after a foot injury left him absent from most of the Rhinos 2020 campaign, followed by a reoccurrence of that same injury which ruled the full back out of action for the entirety of last season - Walker’s exciting career hitting a significant speedbump during a vital crossroads.

Not one to kick stones, Walker turned adversity into advantage. He found solace outside of the playing environment which afforded him the chance to develop his physical attributes – the youngster determined to return to the field bigger and stronger.

“I was gutted to miss the season, but it just gave me an opportunity to work on my body. I’ve never had a preseason – every preseason over the past five years I’ve had an operation.

“I’ve never really had a preseason where I can work on my body and be Super League ready, because I went into it at such a young age.

“When I got the news that I was going to miss another season [in 2021], I took a week off just to get my head around it, reboot and go again. The way I coped with it was to just take myself away from rugby and focus on other things.

“Throughout last season I didn’t pay attention to much rugby – I watched it on tele a bit, but didn’t go to watch any games, didn’t go and watch training, didn’t want to be a part of it and just didn’t want to think about rugby.

“I thought of it as another year to put some size on and work on myself really. It’s only now I’ve started to get myself back into the skills side of things.  

“There wasn’t that many days where I was demotivated, I’ve been pretty good throughout the whole of it, always enjoying going step by step and getting better.”

Now, after almost two years void of action, Walker is preparing for his comeback - and he feels better than ever.

“Physically, I’m probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in – and mentally as well. I’m in a really good place.”

But it certainly hasn't all been plain sailing. Another minor bump in the road may prevent Walker from featuring in the Rhinos' traditional Boxing Day clash – a game he had previously earmarked for his long-awaited return to action.

Nevertheless, all being well he will be fit and available for selection when Leeds host Warrington Wolves in round one.

“I tore my hamstring about three weeks ago. My bodies not used to the preseason load since I’ve been out for two years. I should be back within two to three weeks, but it does mean I miss the Boxing Day game [against Wakefield Trinity].

“It could have been a lot worse; I could have missed the start of the season so it’s not too bad. I’ve just got a couple more things to do and then I’ll be back up and running.”

The Rhinos recently revealed their 2022 squad numbers with Walker retaining his number one shirt, despite his absence on the field and the form of the experienced Richie Myler.

And whilst squad numbers may have little influence on selection throughout the season, it gave Walker some welcome reassurance that he’s still in the minds of the coaching staff.

“I didn’t think I was going to get it. They had every right to give it to Richie Myler purely for how well he’s been playing and for how long I’ve been out - it would have made total sense. I wouldn’t have been annoyed at that – it is what it is.

“For them to give me it, I was over the moon. I’ve just got to prove myself again – it’s been two years and I’ve got to prove that I’m still at the top level and can still play well. But it’s a massive reassurance that they still have trust in me and still believe in me.”

Along with the Rhinos new recruits for 2022, Walker will feel like a new signing at the club as well. Now, as the season fast approaches, he’s filled with excitement to finally lace the boots up once again.

“I’m absolutely buzzing to get back in as you can imagine, been out for so long I just want to get going now, back in training with the boys and back playing.

“Playing with Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin is another massive thing I can’t wait for. You’ve got Blake Austin who’s a little bit off the cuff like me where he can create something out of nothing and Sezer’s the brains. I’m looking forward to playing with them.

“Even players like Kruise [Leeming] and Zane [Tetevano] I’ve not really played with them at all. It’s like I’m coming into a brand-new team, it’s exciting times.

“My short-term goal is obviously to be playing week in week out and try and have an injury free season. The main thing for me is just playing, I just want to play. I can’t wait.”