Cody Walker finally a first-choice starter at Souths
Off-contract South Sydney Rabbitohs playmaker Cody Walker is in the unfamiliar position of heading into a season knowing he is the first-choice player in his preferred position.
And he is eager to prove to new coach Anthony Seibold he deserves the spot long term.
Walker, who was one of South Sydney's best in 2017, played under Seibold when he was an assistant coach at the Melbourne Storm in 2014 before linking again with the former Canberra Raiders prop at Souths when Seibold was recruited to Michael Maguire's staff.
"It definitely is good [to have the coach's backing] but it still doesn't mean I can be comfortable with my role in the team," Walker told NRL.com.
"I still have to work hard and get through the pre-season. I've still got to learn a lot. We're changing a bit in the way we play so I'm still learning what Seebs wants to change and I'm really looking forward to next year."
Walker was not yet ready to divulge what the new-look Rabbitohs playing style would look like, but had plenty of praise for the level of preparation Seibold was putting into getting it ready.
"It's very thought-out and very well planned out the way he's [approaching] the pre-season," Walker said.
"I don't think too much has changed, he's got his own little beliefs. We're just getting comfortable with it now.
"I worked with him in Melbourne in 2014, he was my development coach at Melbourne and we struck up a bit of a relationship down there and when he came across [to Souths] as the defensive coach I had a bit to do with him this year. I'm very familiar with how he coaches and very familiar with the bloke he is."
Walker spent time in the Titans, Panthers and Storm systems before making a belated NRL debut with the Rabbitohs in 2016. He has since established himself as one of the most dangerous running playmakers in the Telstra Premiership, registering the most line-break involvements of any player in 2017 with 1.79 per game (ahead of Cameron Munster's 1.62).
If he maintains anything like that sort of form, the 27-year-old Casino Cougars junior will have plenty of suitors ready to offer him a deal for 2019 and beyond but Walker was typically reluctant to delve into contractual details.
"I'm really just blessed. Every season is a big season," he said.
"I'm off contract next year so I suppose that's in the back of my mind but I just want to play good footy for Souths and see where that goes.
"That [next contract] is a fair way away ... there's a lot of time between now and round one so I don't want to look too far ahead."
Walker's immediate goal is to ensure his club records a few more wins in 2018 to book a September appearance, and he was confident the host of talented youngsters that broke into the NRL ranks last season would go a long way to ensuring that happened.
"Angus Crichton had a fantastic year, Cam Murray is a fantastic player, Tyrell Fuimaono, they're guys that are going to be better for that year in first grade. They're going to know what to expect next year. I think we're in a really good position," he said.
"We did play some really good footy [towards the end of the year], we know the footy is there, it's just we've got to play it more consistently over the season.
"There were some really high points this year and there were some really low points. Consistency is a massive thing and I think our completion rate plays a massive part in that.
"We're working really hard in the pre-season as I suppose every team's doing. Building confidence within the group. I'm really looking forward to round one. We've got a long way to go before we get there.
"I think everyone's goal is to be playing that weekend in October. I think you have to set yourself little goals in between that and we'll see how we go."