Keighley’s Viking raider ready to create a wave

For those who follow League 1 intuitively, they will know the fierce-looking appearance of Keighley forward Dalton Desmond-Walker.

His bald-head and the trademark beard give him a look somewhat reminiscent of a Viking raider, quite fitting given he first hit these shores with the West Wales Raiders.

Behind that figure, a prop known for his hard-hitting tackles, is a humble giant. When he agrees to do the interview, Desmond-Walker couldn’t be more welcoming and assisting.

By the conclusion, he admitted it was the most nervous he’d felt in a while. That was quite ironic, given he wasn’t the man at the other end of the phone to him.

But clearly the man that yields a great bushy beard as his weapon of choice is a far more calming person than it would first appear. Even if, on the field, he is known for being the contrary.

“I like to look after the little blokes, the halfbacks and fullbacks, they’re the try-scorers,” he explained. “I want to do everything I can do let them play footy, obviously within the rules of course.

“I don’t intend to look fierce, shaving my head wasn’t a choice, mate, that was genetics. The beard I’ve had since I was about 20. My dad’s shaved and got a beard, it just runs in the family.”

What else runs in the family is England. The towering prop qualified for a 5-year visa in the UK by the way of heritage, and he’s only half-way through.

When he first made the move from Hills District Bulls to West Wales in 2018, there was a middle-man that offered advice. One that is no stranger to the British game, if you will pardon the pun.

“My dummy-half at the Bulls was Heath L’Estrange,” explained Desmond-Walker. “I learned a lot from him being in the middle. I had another former NRL player, Tim Robinson, who played for Manly and Cronulla at the other prop position.

“I was talking to Heath about Rugby League over here, he said it was a different kettle of fish. Luckily, I had an ancestry visa because my grandad was born in West Ham, England and he joined Australia’s military.”

The Australian would have a war of attrition of his own when he swapped his home for the UK, the opposite move to his grandfather, as he was part of the inaugural West Wales Raiders side for the 2018 League 1 campaign.

The Raiders would end the campaign on negative points, having lost all 26 games of the regular season and being deducted four points due to fielding ineligible players.

The club were also the recipients of a world record 144-0 defeat at the hands of York City Knights, a game which Desmond-Walker missed through suspension. Either way, though, it was a difficult period for the former Lalor Park Kookaburras junior.

“It was a very tough time,” he added. “They meant very well and their intentions as a club are great. Mentally, though, it was by far the most challenging time of my life.

“Physically, I felt comfortable testing myself against professional players over here, but I had to adapt to life in the UK and playing Rugby League different.

“That was hard to do. I was looking to leave at the end of the 2018 season, but Kim Williams asked me to stay.

“That was a real boost for me because he’s such a pedigree coach and to be asked to play a part by him and for my services to be recognised was great for me.”

He would find some respite the following season, scoring a try in a 44-16 win over Coventry Bears, their first and only win under the Raiders name to date.

“That Coventry win was an amazing experience,” he recalled. “Coming from the heartache of 2018 to that euphoria was great for us.

“In the grand scheme of things, that was huge. The team was a bunch of young guys and they probably need time and understanding to make it work down there.”

That future will be a testing challenge for the Welsh outfit, as Desmond-Walker opted to rise for another one, moving to promotion hopefuls Keighley Cougars at the start of the year.

“I came from West Wales with a definite point to prove. I definitely want to stick it out here for five years and grow as a person and a player.

“That was the goal for us, to grow and contend for the Championship next year. Obviously the Coronavirus has ended our season, but I’m sure we come back stronger next year.

“In the first game of the season, I broke my hand against Workington Town. It was a real catch 22 for me, the season got called off but I wasn’t going to be playing anyway.”

The former Parramatta Eels development player has since been humbled by the support of the Cougars, and the wider community, despite injury and the season-ending only seeing him add two appearances to his 36 for West Wales.

The club have been extremely active in their community response to the outbreak, donating thousands of facemasks to various causes and even launching a limited edition kit to mark the role of the NHS. They’ve done everything they can to ensure Desmond-Walker isn’t isolated mentally, as well as physically, as well.

“On my behalf, I live by myself,” he said. “I’ve got mates from all over and they’re all checking up on me.

“Keighley have been exceptional with the community and they’re at the forefront of that. Everyone’s forward-thinking and it’s a really great club to be a part of.

“They are by far one of the best club’s I’ve been at. They’re very community orientated, everyone from the fans to the CEO have been checking up on me every day.

“We’ve got this new thing called Dalton TV with the Cougars where I’m getting involved with the fans and stuff.

“I’ve cooked up some Aussie meals, explained Aussie snacks to them and celebrated my birthday and Anzac day with a few Australian beers. It’s been just like home for me.

“I’m from Sydney, so we’ve got all the NRL teams in one place. Up here, it’s just the same. It’s definitely the heartlands.

“I live and breathe the game. I get up at 4am to watch the NRL app, I’ve already been to see Toronto, Catalans and Leeds play a couple of times. I’m definitely a fan first.”