The battle for the Leeds Rhinos’ number one shirt

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Jack Walker may have the number one shirt at Leeds but it’s never been plain sailing for the fullback.

When he burst onto the scene, he had to unseat Ash Golding at fullback and caused a touch unrest as he considered options outside of Headingley during his breakout season in 2017. In the end, he got through these issues and starred as Leeds won the Grand Final becoming the youngest Super League Champion ever in the process.

Over the course of 2018 he had to battle with Golding again but by the time 2019 came around he was awarded the number one shirt Golding had held up till that point.

2019 was a fantastic season for Walker and he started 2020 in electric form scoring against Hull KR, Salford and Warrington at the beginning of the campaign whilst registering a number of assists as he added the last piece to his fullback jigsaw – a delightful passing game, something he has struggled to recapture due to the injuries which followed.

It was of course these injuries sidelined him for months culminating in the discovery of Richie Myler as an exceptional fullback and by the time Walker returned, Myler could not be forced out of the fullback spot certainly not in time for the 2020 Challenge Cup Final as he picked up the Lance Todd trophy.

So Walker, had another rival and found himself on the back foot in the tussle for his favoured position when he picked up an injury which sidelined him for the entire 2021 season.

An injury to Myler himself in Round One of this season of course opened the door for him to take over at the back but another injury again got in Walker’s way Making matters worse, this injury led to the arrival of a new contender for the fullback spot in the returning Zak Hardaker.

Ironically, when Hardaker left in 2016 it ended up being Walker settling in as his long term replacement but now Hardaker is looking immovable at fullback based off his last two performances at the back for the Rhinos prompting fans to call for him to receive a longer deal rather than his current contract which keeps him at Headingley till the end of the campaign.

If this deal came it would leave Jack Walker in an interesting position needing to wrestle the fullback spot away from a third teammate having battled Golding and Myler earlier in his career.

Walker only has one year left on his current deal at Leeds and if Hardaker were to stick it out at fullback for Leeds beyond the rest of the season, Walker could look at options outside of his hometown club.

Wanting to keep one of their finest academy products of the last decade, some Leeds fans have suggested that he should switch positions with many calling for him to come into the halves whilst others suggest he should figure on the wing but Leeds have great options in both these positions as it stands with David Fusitu’a, Ash Handley, Blake Austin and Richie Myler all shining in those roles on Friday night.

Perhaps a spot on the bench would be ideal especially with Brad Dwyer potentially on the way out with reported interest from Champions St Helens.

Thus, Walker’s long term future is seemingly up in the air then with both Hardaker and Myler at the club vying for the fullback spot and Hardaker taking to Leeds like a duck to water. Could he change positions, will he sign a new deal or look to play elsewhere? Time will tell but he’s certainly still a talented fullback who still has the potential to be one of the top number ones in the league.

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