Harrison excited by Walker's NRL return
He was there when Shannon Walker made his inauspicious debut in the NRL in Round 10, 2008 and former Titan Ashley Harrison believes the 27-year-old now has the hunger to make good on his almost limitless potential.
Walker will make his first appearance in a Titans NRL jersey since July 23, 2010 when he takes to Eden Park on Saturday at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines with the lure of a full-time contract serving as powerful motivation for a big performance.
Harrison saw his emergence in the formative years of the Titans but as he was lauded as the fastest man in league and drew comparisons with the likes of Preston Campbell and Matty Bowen, injuries cruelled opportunities in the top grade.
His first game was the stuff of nightmares with handling errors that caused coach John Cartwright to ponder whether he should drag him back to the bench where he started the game but Harrison has no doubt that he is now in position to be an NRL regular.
"Coming through the grades he was outstanding. He could score a try from anywhere on the field and reminded me of a Matty Bowen-type player as a kid," Harrison told NRL.com.
"We always knew he could produce something at some time and that's why he got his opportunity.
"It was just a matter of him making that jump, going from Queensland Cup level and being a star at that level to a first-grader and a mainstay at that level is always a hard thing to do.
"He probably didn't accomplish that in his first time around and I think that's what's brought him back to the sport.
"He's got a bit of unfinished business there, getting into first grade and then being a mainstay there.
"He was pretty young when he first started and he's got a lot more experience under his belt now.
"He's been able to travel a fair bit in that Sevens team and when you get a little bit older you're able to put a lot more into perspective.
"He's probably prepared a lot better this time around, he knows what to expect and he's got the hunger there, that's one thing he does have so I'll be interested to see how he goes.
"I'm excited to see him play; I'll be watching with interest."
After four years playing in the Australian Rugby Sevens program Walker turned his back on a possible trip to the Olympic Games in Rio later this year in order to spend more time with his young family.
Such was the difficulty of the decision he was facing that it took months of discussions with Tweed Heads coach Aaron Zimmerle for Walker to leave the rugby ranks and once he did, Zimmerle made Titans coach Neil Henry aware that he was back in town.
After a three-month 'train and trial' contract Walker now has the chance to show Henry what he is capable of in competition and satisfy those close to him who have been waiting for four years to see him return to rugby league.
"I've got that from the family and stuff too. They were always asking me when I was going to come back and give it a good crack," Walker said.
"My goal was to go to the Olympics at the end of the day but things change and family comes first for me.
"It was definitely unfinished business when this opportunity came up and I just thought I'd give it everything I've got."
Travel between the Gold Coast and the Sevens training base in Narrabeen in Sydney coupled with international travel to play in tournaments kept Walker away from his partner, daughter and infant son to the point where he couldn't take it anymore.
The Auckland Nines would seem the perfect vehicle for a man who in 2012 scored two tries in the final of the Japan Sevens to earn the Aussies their first title in two years but he believes the two games are in fact very different.
"Sevens is a bit different because everything is 50/50 with Sevens. I'm not sure on the full rules of Nines yet because it's my first gig but looking forward to the challenge," he said.
"We hadn't done much on training with the Nines side of things which was probably good because we've got a couple of trials coming up too but really looking forward to it.
"It's going to be a similar transition from Sevens to league so really looking forward to all the space and getting an opportunity to play over there with the boys."