Leeds Rhinos full-back Jack Walker is heading to the west side of Hull to join up with Brett Hodgson’s Hull FC side ahead of their derby clash at Magic Weekend with Hull Kingston Rovers. Here, we assess whether it is a good move for both the player and the clubs involved, as well as what it means for the Walker’s future at Leeds.
A good move for Jack?
The 22-year-old has made just nine appearances for the Rhinos this season, and only 19 appearances in his last three seasons. The Oulton and East Leeds junior will be looking to revitalise his career at the Black and Whites, especially with a World Cup spot up for grabs at the end of the year. Furthermore, with the mid-season signing of Zak Hardaker, Walker has fallen to arguably third in the fullback pecking order at Leeds, behind Hardaker and Richie Myler.
Walker is currently the youngest player to ever win the Grand Final, at 18 years and 60 days. He has clear potential but has never had the chance to show it, due to lack of game time because of injury. Hull FC can be his chance to shine, should he get a good number of games under his belt. He can play against the top teams in the league and gain more experience working with Brett Hodgson, who himself was a top-class fullback, which can only be a positive. The youngster will be looking for a big second half of the season and will be hoping to develop his game and match sharpness to be able to return to Leeds at the end of the year and cement his name on the team sheet for 2023.
A good move for Leeds?
The Rhinos currently sit ninth in the table, well below their own standards. With four forwards currently out due to suspension, head coach Rohan Smith will be able to use the money saved to bring in another prop to add to their already light pack.
In terms of who is available, however, is a different story. Luke Thompson has just returned from the NRL for personal reasons, but the England star would have to take a significant pay cut if he was to join any Super League side, not just Leeds. A more realistic target would be Rob Mulhern from Warrington, who started his career with the Rhinos. The 27-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and has failed to agree to terms with Wire for 2023. Could a return to Headingley be on the cards?
Another positive for Leeds is that they can see him progress at the top-level, instead of him being wasted in the reserves or the Championship. Hull FC have better facilities and a better squad for Walker to play with, all whilst getting regular game time and testing himself against the best players in the country. Having played just 19 games in three seasons, the fullback will be eager to restart his career at the Airlie Birds and kick on from what has been a torrid time due to injury.
A good move for Hull FC?
The Black and Whites currently have 13 players out due to injury and suspension, so it was inevitable that they had to bring some players in. They have done that with Walker, as well as Josh Simm from St Helens and Ellis Longstaff from Warrington. The trio could all make their debut on Sunday at Magic Weekend and would provide much-needed bodies for Brett Hodgson to choose from going forward.
It also gives them versatility when coming to selection; Walker can play at fullback or in the halves, Simm can play on the wing or in the centre, and Longstaff can play hooker, second row or loose forward.
This seems to be a good piece of business from both clubs. Walker is not getting a look in at the Rhinos due to injury and form, so a loan move is currently the best option for him. If, and it’s a big if, he can stay fit and get a string of games together, it will do his confidence the world of good and he can hopefully push on from his previous setbacks and make his mark on Super League and a struggling Hull FC side. Hodgson’s men currently sit sixth in the table, but face tricky opposition in the near future, with games against Hull KR, Wigan and Castleford.
What does it mean for the future though? Walker is contracted to the end of 2023 at Leeds, which means it is likely he will stay in blue and amber until then, however, with the arrival of Zak Hardaker back in April and the resurgence of Richie Myler at fullback, it is hard to see where Walker fits into Rohan Smith’s plans. Though his best position is fullback, we could see Hardaker replace Liam Sutcliffe at centre in 2023, allowing Walker to battle with Myler for the number one shirt.