Walker NRL ready after football-free 2020

·2-min read

Sam Walker's football-free 2020 could prove a blessing in disguise as the teenage prodigy prepares to become the Sydney Roosters' youngest halfback since Mitchell Pearce.

Walker's NRL debut on Sunday against the Warriors comes on the back of 18 months of hype, after being labelled Cooper Cronk's long-term replacement in 2019.

The 18-year-old has barely played since arriving at the club from Queensland later that year, with COVID-19 denying him any reserve-grade action in 2020.

But Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson can see the silver lining, with Walker able to spend all year training with the Roosters rather than splitting time with North Sydney.

That is likely to prove crucial as he attempts to slot straight into the Roosters' structure with Luke Keary to miss the rest of the year with a knee injury.

"Any player who has been in the system for a while, it might be their first game but they know the culture of the team," Robinson said.

"They might be new to the NRL but they aren't new to your team. That was important, the training of that last year.

"They got to live every moment with us, going to the games and feel every bit of the game because we were all in it together last year.

"But whatever it is, the kid has been ready for a while. Also he is a footy nerd, he watches every game."

Walker's debut is the youngest for a half at the club since Pearce took his bow as a 17-year-old in 2007.

His first game could not have come at a tougher time, with the Roosters still missing Jake Friend and Boyd Cordner.

Sam Verrills has also suffered another setback on his knee injury, with his return delayed for another six weeks as the Roosters search for hooking options.

But regardless, Robinson does not want to pile pressure on Walker.

"He knows his footy, so he knows what his style of play is," Robinson said.

"It's just about him playing his footy. We're not expecting him to go over and above. Just go out there and start your NRL career."

Meanwhile Walker's dressing-room experience from last year is also something Robinson wants to offer Joseph Suaalii this weekend.

The 17-year-old centre is named in the Roosters' 21-man squad, but Robinson has confirmed he will not yet play despite getting an exemption from the NRL to debut.

"I want him to get the game-day experience," Robinson said.

"But there's not a timeline. I want him to get the experience to feel what it's like in the changeroom.

"Put on that jersey, go and warm up. It's a good opportunity this weekend to do that. Then each week (selection) will be on our needs."