Blues back under-siege Walker to fire
NSW players say under-fire utility Dylan Walker has brushed off criticism levelled at him after the team's Origin I loss and are tipping the Manly playmaker to show what he's capable of in Game Two.
Walker was made a scapegoat in some quarters for the Blues' narrow Game One loss despite only being given nine minutes to try and spark something at the end of the game.
He hit back with a blistering 40 minutes for Manly on the weekend to help his team to a 24-4 lead, scoring two tries through skill and instinct, though his team eventually got run down.
Speaking from Blues camp in Coffs Harbour, his Origin teammates have put their faith in the 21-year-old's retention for the must-win Game Two clash at Suncorp next Wednesday night – especially a couple of Blues who had an up-close look at Walker's skill because they were on the field as he was scoring against them.
"He made something out of nothing on a couple of occasions which I think showcased what he's capable," Penrith fullback Matt Moylan told NRL.com after failing to stop Walker score either of those two first half tries.
"You can see he's a skillful and classy player. Everyone knows that, everyone's seen over the last few years what he can do and we've definitely seen on the weekend what he can do when he gets the opportunity to get the ball in his hands.
"I'm not sure how he'll be used yet this week but I know he's a strike player and someone that is good to have in the squad, someone of his skill level."
Blues development player and Penrith star Bryce Cartwright said he had shared a joke with Walker once they got into camp about Sunday's game.
"It was a game of two halves – he played the first, I played the second," Cartwright laughed.
"He's a great bloke, I've known him since I was a junior, 15 or 16 playing against him. He's a great player and he's going to do well for this team."
Blues halfback Adam Reynolds – a teammate of Walker at the Rabbitohs for several years including the 2014 premiership-winning season – said any criticism levelled at the Kangaroos centre was unwarranted.
"I felt sorry for him. Nine minutes is not a lot of time to change a game in rugby league," Reynolds said.
"As a squad and as a team, the coaching staff, we know what he can do and we're happy for him to be here. I think all the outside influences put a fair bit on him but he's a good character and he doesn't read into it too much. For him, he knows what he's got to do Game Two.
"He's a talent, he's played for Australia. He's only a young kid, he's won a premiership and you can't knock that. It's usually the people that haven't really played rugby league that are knocking him. We're fully confident in what he can do and he does add a lot of value to this team."
Centre Josh Morris shared a similar view.
"I felt really sorry for him, he's copped a fair bit of it. It's definitely unwarranted," Morris told NRL.com.
"The best thing about that is he's gone back to his club footy and had an outstanding game on the weekend so that shows what type of player he is. I'm sure he will have learned from that experience and will be looking to better it."
Five-eighth James Maloney hoped that with a dryer track and more open game in the offing Walker would get a chance to show what he's capable of.
"Obviously he got a bit of unfair criticism after Game One and I think if we can bring him into the game on tired defenders and he's got a real electrifying running game, I think everyone's seen that, if we can get him running around tired middles and lazy defenders then he'll be very dangerous," Maloney said.