Exclusive: Reece Walsh on State of Origin hype, adjusting to the NRL and the life changing decision to join the Warriors

Reece Walsh would back himself to “have a crack” at State of Origin level, even though he admits he has still got so much to learn about the sport.

The Warriors rookie returns this week for the clash against the Knights on Saturday, after missing last Sunday’s Storm defeat through suspension.

But the wider picture is the second Origin clash next weekend in Brisbane.

Walsh had been tipped as a possible bolter before the series by prominent ex-players and pundits, and those calls have only grown stronger following Queensland’s 50-6 demise in game one.

The Maroons are looking for inspiration and the possible absence of AJ Brimson through injury would open up a bench utility spot.

The 18-year-old Walsh has only played six NRL games and it would seem premature and ill-advised to throw him in, but that prospect is apparently being seriously considered by the Queensland hierarchy.

The Warriors’ Central Coast base is insulated from the Sydney and Brisbane media and Walsh tries to ignore the hype – though it can be difficult.

“I try not to look at it too much, I try not to get caught up in that sort of stuff,” Walsh told the Herald. “Obviously I do see that stuff but even how good it sounds, I haven’t had too many first-grade games. But that doesn’t mean that the confidence isn’t there – that I could go out and have a crack.

“I definitely would have a crack but I have still got so much to learn and I am lucky enough to have people around me that are teaching me.”

Walsh admits representing the Maroons has been a lifelong ambition, whether it happens this year or sometime in the future.

“100 percent I would want to,” said Walsh. “I’m a young fella and that is something I always dreamed to do so if the opportunity was there I would love to do it.

“If I do get the chance to go into Origin camp, I would go in there like a sponge and I would soak it all up and just learn as much as I can. It would be really special.”

But Walsh acknowledges that many observers forget the paucity of his experience. He didn’t play at all in 2020 – as development grades were cancelled – and had just three senior matches (a Broncos trial and two Queensland Cup games) before his NRL debut in late April.

Warriors coach Nathan Brown has been unequivocal on the matter, reiterating last Sunday that “it’s not in anyone’s best interests to put an 18-year-old kid in State of Origin that’s played [six] games of footy in the NRL and didn’t play last year because of [the] Covid [pandemic]”.

Warriors consultant and legendary NSW coach Phil Gould told Australian media that Queensland shouldn’t be looking to an 18-year-old to solve their problems.

Since his debut Walsh has had three more NRL starts and two appearances off the bench.

That brief resume has produced four tries, eight try assists, six line breaks, around 120 running metres a game and a whole lot of excitement.

“It hasn’t been too bad,” said Walsh. “I’m still getting used to first grade and it is going to take me a while to get used to [it] but I am really loving it, playing with the boys and being around the boys.”

Walsh is being managed carefully by the Warriors, but is so far coping well with the physical demands. Around 86 kilos, he hopes to put on three or four more, without compromising his speed.

“I’ve prepared well coming up,” says Walsh. “I’m not the biggest person in the world but I am not the smallest that plays in this sport. Physically I’m going alright.

“I’ve definitely got a lot to get better and a lot more to go but at the moment I do feel strong and that physically I’m going okay.

“[The contact] is a lot more than the local footy and your own age group. The hits are bigger. [Recovery] is really important to get yourself ready for the next week.”

Given what he has produced so far, allied with his obvious potential, Walsh is already being hailed as one of the best signings in Warriors history, a genuine recruitment coup.

He’s a terrific talent but seems grounded and humble, while his x-factor has attracted new fans to the Auckland club.

The Nerang product had never thought about playing for anyone other than Brisbane, but the move has worked out well.

“I did think I was going to be a Bronco for life but the Warriors came up with an opportunity to play first grade and have a crack in the NRL and I just didn’t want to throw that away so I took it,” says Walsh. “Now that I am here I’m really happy with the decision that I made. I’m learning a lot and I am loving it, playing around a good bunch of boys. I’m so happy I made the choice to come here.”

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