Shades of Lockyer in Walker's debut
Greg Bird is tipping young teammate Dylan Walker to bounce back after the 20-year-old experienced a tough initiation to the Test match arena in Australia's 30-12 loss in their Four Nation opener against New Zealand.
The Kangaroos centre was forced to replace Greg Inglis at fullback during the second half of Australia's opening Four Nations game at Suncorp Stadium.
Inglis failed to re-emerge from the sheds after half-time, succumbing to the effects of a virus he carried into the match which resulted in a reshuffle to an Australian backline already depleted by withdrawal of five-eighth Daly Cherry-Evans in the 36th minute due to a hip injury.
Flustered after letting a Shaun Johnson bomb bounce midway through his 40 minute stint at the back, Walker's debut became even more forgettable when he spilt a difficult spiralling bomb off the Kiwi halfback's boot in the 68th minute, leading directly to Jason Nightingale's match-sealing try.
However Bird defended Walker's performance at fullback, drawing comparisons from Darren Lockyer's torrid Test debut in 1998.
"Dylan Walker's not a natural fullback. He was asked to play fullback and Johnson was putting up some towering bombs to him and he missed them," Bird said.
"I've seen some superstars like Darren Lockyer for example, [who] had a very similar game in his first game of [Test] football at fullback and he's probably going to be a future immortal.
"So I'm not worried about Dylan, he's won a grand final and he knows what is takes to play big games and he'll bounce back from that."
When Lockyer made his debut for the Kangaroos as a 21-year-old he did so in similar circumstances to Walker.
The Kangaroos were taking on the Kiwis at Auckland's North Harbour Stadium and Lockyer was introduced early in the first half to replace injured fullback Robbie O'Davis.
In cold, wet and blustery conditions, Lockyer had a shocker. Fumbling the ball on two occasions which led directly to New Zealand tries, Australia eventually fell 22-16 despite leading at half-time.
Two days later Lockyer scored two tries and booted seven goals in a man-of-the-match performance for the Broncos as they thrashed North Sydney 60-6.
The rest is history. Lockyer went to play a total 63 Tests for Australia (four of those Super League) with 38 games as captain.
Bird, who now has 13 Tests under his belt, is confident Walker and the remaining contingent of young Kangaroos can bounce back ahead of Sunday's must-win encounter against England.
"[The rookies] are probably one of the biggest points that I'm focussed on moving forward," the 30-year-old said.
"There were a lot of disappointed young kids out there. We should have made the environment a lot easier for them and they were out under a lot of pressure, Dylan Walker especially – he was a bit rattled like a lot of them were.
"We'll get around each other and stick together over the next couple of days and go into the next game in Melbourne with a different attitude and approach.
"A few of them are confident kids and I'm sure they'll bounce back."
Despite the obvious injury concern surrounding Cherry-Evans, Bird believes coach Tim Sheens should stick with a same side against England so the Kangaroos can seek redemption for what was only their third loss in 37 previous Tests.
"This team isn’t changing. We're not going anywhere and we have to get around each other and pull ourselves out of the little slump we've put ourselves in," he said.
"I think it will be a very similar 17, there's going to be a few injury concerns but I think it will be a similar side coming up against the English next week."