Sam Walker's brutal Roosters axing leaves NRL world divided

The Roosters' shock move against their star playmaker has left NRL fans in disbelief.

Pictured here, Sam Walker playing in the NRL for the Roosters.
Sam Walker's axing at the Sydney Roosters has taken many NRL fans by surprise. Pic: Getty

Sam Walker has paid a brutal price for the Roosters' indifferent form in the NRL, with the 20-year-old playmaker dumped to reserve grade in a move that has stunned the rugby league world. Walker looks set to spend the next few weeks playing in the NSW Cup after a shake-up from coach Trent Robinson's Roosters, who are set to welcome back Angus Crichton after his bipolar diagnosis.

Crichton spent the early part of the year seeking treatment for his mental health but the representative forward's return to the NRL has been somewhat overshadowed by Walker's axing for the Anzac Day game with St George Illawarra. The 20-year-old Queenslander has been touted as one of the game's future stars, however, his halves partnership with Luke Keary has failed to spark the Roosters' attack this season.

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Walker has only contributed two try assists in six games in 2023, with Keary only managing two more in a Roosters side that's averaging 17.7 points per game. The Tri Colours were regarded by many experts and NRL fans to be one of the favourites to win the premiership, but currently find themselves ninth on the ladder after a patchy 3-3 start.

The Roosters' tally of 106 points is currently the second-worst in the NRL, with only the last-placed Wests Tigers scoring fewer points after the opening seven rounds. Speaking on NRL 360 on Tuesday night, league journalist Paul Crawley said the Roosters simply had to make a change.

“I don’t think the club had any option but to put Joey Manu at six, if you watch that game against the Sharks the other night and the way the two Roosters halves play so similar,” Crawley said. “And Keary was clearly the in-form player of the two... and then you’ve got a guy, a golden boot winner from last year (Manu) who was so exceptional for the Kiwis at the World Cup. They had no choice, it had to be done.”

NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent agreed, adding: “Keary and Walker play so similarly, you need a point of difference, the problems they cause you, they are similar. They are similar body shapes, similar speeds, there are so many similarities there that if you prepare for one, you prepare for both.”

League legend and former NSW Origin coach Laurie Daley warned, however, that the Roosters shake-up was a risky one, particularly given Manu is not a recognised kicker. It means that Keary will likely have to shoulder most of the burden in terms of the Roosters' kicking game.

“He (Walker) hasn’t been playing well, but neither has the team,” Daley said on Sky Sports Radio. “They’re doing something to try and get a reaction and they’re trying to find their mojo. The Roosters at full strength and to win a comp, Sam Walker will be in that team.

“I think they’re just giving him some time to go away and get some confidence back and then be brought back into the team. They’re trying to find ways to get Manu into the contest as well because he was off last week as well.”

Seen here, Sam Walker reacts with disappointment during an NRL game for the Roosters.
Sam Walker reacts with disappointment during an NRL game for the Roosters. Pic: Getty (Brett Hemmings via Getty Images)

NRL fans react to Sam Walker's axing

The Daily Telegraph’s Dean Ritchie - like many fans - admitted he was "shocked" by the Roosters' decision to swing the axe on Walker, describing it as a “drastic" response to their current predicament. “I was shocked. I was shocked,” Ritchie said.

“I’ve watched Sam Waker reasonably closely the last few weeks and he hasn’t been playing incredibly well. I was still surprised the Roosters took such a drastic step to drop him.”

The Roosters' shake-up will see Paul Momirovski shift to Manu's regular spot in the centres, with Sitili Tupouniua making his way onto the bench after recovering from an ACL injury. Crichton's return is the good news story for the game though, with the Kangaroos' World Cup winner to bring some added class to Robinson's forward pack.

"It's good to see him healthy and happy, I personally love playing with him," Roosters prop Matt Lodge said. "I rate him as one of the best back-rowers in the comp."

The prospect of Manu getting his hands on the ball more often will do little to safeguard the job prospects of under-fire Dragons coach Anthony Griffin. The Kiwi international represented New Zealand at fullback and was a much more damaging threat playing in the spine.

"He'll do a great job, he's a crafty player," said winger Daniel Tupou. "He's all-rounded and you know he's going to create (chances)."

with AAP

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