17-year-old Jack Walker will be hoping he can defy the odds again and make his Leeds debut this Friday when the Rhinos take on Doncaster in the Challenge Cup.
Walker is in his second season with the Rhinos Academy but his career was nearly over before it started a few years ago, when he suffered a fractured skull while playing amateur rugby for Oulton Invaders. However, two years later, he signed a professional contract with the Rhinos and is now in Leeds’ squad for Friday’s tie against the Dons.
“It was a scary time looking back now,” he recalled. “When I fractured my skull, loads of people were telling me that was my career was over and I should start looking at other career options. I stuck with rugby and managed to get myself a contract at the Rhinos.
“I don’t remember too much about it. I was at full-back and they made a break, I went in to a tackle and the next thing I remember was waking up on the field with my mum and dad around me asking me if I was okay. I was out of contact in training for six months. That was a tough period, stood on the sidelines watching everyone play when I wanted to get out there. In training when everyone did contact I had to stand at the side, when we did fitness I was trying to be the best at that.”
Walker has thanked his former amateur coach Steve Fox for the influence he has had on his career, especially during that tough period. Fox is also part of the Rhinos scholarship coaching team along with Rob Burrow and Carl Ablett.
Walker added: “Steve has been a massive help to me in my career. He was my coach at Oulton Invaders for two years and he was my coach at Under 15s and U16s at the Rhinos. He has really helped me a lot. It helps having a familiar face there and knowing there is someone you can talk.
“I originally started at full-back and then switched to half back at my amateur club and that continued hat at the Rhinos. I think it has helped me with my confidence and enables me to talk to my team mates and tell them where they need to be.”
“Working with Rob Burrow was great for me; he is a role model for me. I can trust what he is saying because he has been there and done it,” added the 17-year-old.
Walker has scored four tries in eight appearances for the Rhinos U19s side so far this season. He was the 18th man on Easter Monday as Tom Briscoe faced a fitness test before the game.