Reece Walsh's rise to State of Origin star amid relationship breakdown and life as single father

The Queensland fullback has already accomplished a lot in his life at just 21.

He's still only 21, but Reece Walsh has already risen to superstardom in the NRL and is arguably the most popular player in the game today. The fullback ran out for Queensland in State of Origin 2 on Wednesday night, and the eyes of the rugby league world (and large chunks of the wider population) were all on him.

Thanks to Tik Tok and the social media generation, Walsh is the most recognisable and talked about player in the NRL today. There are some who believe he'll become the most famous and marketable player ever to lace up a boot, and is on the cusp of signing a $6 million deal with the Brisbane Broncos that will set him and his family up for life.

Reece Walsh with daughter Leila and ex-partner Freda Puru.
Reece Walsh shares four-year-old daughter Leila with ex-partner Freda Puru. Image: Getty/Instagram

Considering his insane popularity and social media following, NRL fans are just as interested in Walsh's personal life than his exploits on the field. And his rise to stardom is all the more remarkable when you consider the extra responsibilities he's been juggling at the tender age of 21.

Walsh shares four-year-old daughter Leila with ex-girlfriend Freda Puru, with whom he split in 2023. Leila is frequently spotted at Walsh's games, and he shared a sweet moment with his daughter after the game after being knocked out in the early stages of State of Origin 1.

Reece Walsh, pictured here with daughter Leila after State of Origin 1.
Reece Walsh and daughter Leila after State of Origin 1. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Walsh became a father at age 18 when he was playing with the New Zealand Warriors in 2021. He moved back to Australia after signing with the Broncos in 2023, but unfortunately his relationship with Puru broke down after that. Walsh and Puru continue to co-parent their daughter, and Puru was spotted in the crowd with Leila at Origin 1 in Sydney earlier this month.

Reece Walsh with ex-partner Freda Puru in 2021.
Reece Walsh and ex-partner Freda Puru with daughter Leila in 2021. Image:

Consider some of the turmoil and personal challenges that Walsh has had to overcome at just 21, his rise to NRL and State of Origin superstar is nothing short of remarkable. "She has been awesome for me. She calms me down," the 21-year-old said late last year about Leila.

"Not everything is about footy and a job. When I am in the (Broncos) facility I am the footy player. When I step out and see my little one and my family, I am dad. It is pretty awesome. I am still so young but I feel if it wasn't for her I wouldn't be in this position. She is pretty awesome. I get emotional about it.

"I am lucky to have awesome people around me. When I am stepping out of line they pull me in line real quick. I just want to put my best foot forward with everything I do. If I can do those things, then I will be of value to this team. Just having [Leila] around brings everything back to reality. I enjoy being a dad and she is the best girl in the world. She keeps me grounded too."

Reece Walsh with Leila in 2023.
Reece Walsh with Leila after the NRL preliminary final in 2023. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)


Walsh and Queensland missed out on sealing the State of Origin series after losing Game 2 on Wednesday night. However they will head into the deciding Game 3 full of confidence at their home ground of Suncorp Stadium.

If he outpoints NSW fullback Dylan Edwards, it'll be hard for Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga not to pick him for Australia at the end of the year. James Tedesco is the incumbent Kangaroos fullback and captain, but has been replaced by Edwards in the Blues side.

“Reece was [in conversations] last year…but he was at the back end of a pretty tough year, we felt," Meninga said on Tuesday. “If a couple of players start to poke their head up and play to the best of their ability and make a difference at this level, you're worthy of being considered for the Australian job.”