Walters presses for NRL contract
Easts Tigers five-eighth Billy Walters will be hoping to impress NRL club scouts when he runs out for Queensland in Sunday's Residents clash at Suzuki Stadium in Brisbane.
It will be Walters' Residents debut after a stellar start to the Intrust Super Cup season, with the lively half helping the Tigers to fourth on the ladder after nine rounds.
Easts sit only one point off top spot, and while the majority of his Easts teammates will use the Representative Round to recover, Walters will be aiming to help Queensland reclaim bragging rights after a 30-16 defeat in the corresponding fixture last year.
That clash saw NSW Resident Ken Maumalo score a hat-trick, with this performance resulting in the hulking winger being recalled to the New Zealand Warriors starting side in the NRL – a position he still holds.
It's proof that NRL clubs do take notice of the annual Residents match, and the uncontracted Walters will be using the experience to push his name towards first grade.
"(Getting an NRL contract) is 100 per cent the goal. It's a good opportunity this week to try and get my foot in the door," Walters said.
"I just need to enjoy the week and live it up with all the boys.
"It's unreal. It's probably more (about) the experience.
"There are so many boys in the team this year that have played first grade so I'm just trying to learn off them and hopefully try and take that next step forward."
Walters has quickly risen through the rugby league ranks after a self-confessed slow start to his career.
A 'late bloomer', Walters missed out on playing under-20s due to his lack of size, working his way up the ranks at Easts instead.
Now a permanent fixture in the club's Intrust Super Cup side, 23-year-old Walters said he had come a long way since his late teens.
"I always knew I was going to be a late bloomer. I'm still growing as a man whereas a lot of the other boys look a lot older," he said.
"When I was 18 to 20 I was still a little kid so there was no way I was going to play under-20s. I just had to be patient and wait.
"Even now if someone said I would never play NRL then it [wouldn't matter]. I'd still be playing footy. It's what I love to do and what I've always done. I'd play for free if I could."
Chip off the old block
Son of Queensland rugby league legend Kevin, Walters was lucky enough to have a pre-season with the Melbourne Storm in 2016.
It was a turning point in his career, with the young half fortunate enough to learn under three of the Queensland Maroons' best.
"In the last three years I've probably been playing some of my best footy. I've grown into my body and gained a lot of experience, especially when I went to the Melbourne Storm last year and did a pre-season," he said.
"I could tell my game lifted to another level after that so I'm just trying to keep going with that and keep making these teams.
"I definitely felt like I held my own. I was pretty lucky because they didn't have a Four Nations competition that year so Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater were all there for the start of the pre-season.
"It was good just watching how they did things and learning off them. They were really good in the way they helped me. Hopefully dad was proud."
Fast-forward to 2017 and Walters now has the chance to use these lessons from some of the game's greats to deliver in the biggest game of his career.
But no matter what happens this weekend, it's a feat in itself that Walters has even been selected for Queensland after breaking his leg less than 12 months ago.
Walters suffered the injury in Easts 20-12 loss to the Burleigh Bears in Round 13 of the Intrust Super Cup last year, but thinking it was a cork he tried to play on, showing unbelievable toughness in a bid to get his side over the line.
He fell short in his efforts and this is what is driving him to stay healthy and go all the way with his side in 2017.
"Last year I broke my leg around this time so I'm just trying to play a whole year," he said.
"They told me it was just a cork but I got a scan later in the week and they said it was broken.
"My first goal is to just try and get Easts to a grand final and a premiership. Everything else will sort itself out if that happens."