Cody Walker's career-best form and maturing off the paddock has dragged the Rabbitohs into title contention and revived his own NSW Origin fortunes according to Blues coach Brad Fittler.
Fittler's eyes lit up when quizzed on Walker's sparkling returns over the past six weeks, culminating in a two-try carve-up of the Roosters last Friday that rocked both the premiers and the finals race.
"Absolutely, he's been awesome," Fittler said when asked if Walker was in career-best touch.
"And it's rubbing off on his teammates, that's the biggest thing.
"It's all well and good to sometimes to have your own shining period, and to be able to drag teammates along with that, that's a sign of leadership. They're the qualities you want in all of your team.
"But I've got to say his game on the weekend, his last month. The game against Parramatta, the game against St George Illawarra in Indigenous Round, it's some of the best footy I've seen by anyone."
Is Walker in line for an Origin recall?
The endorsement from the NSW mentor is a telling one for Walker on finals eve ahead of Sunday's do-or-die clash with Newcastle at ANZ Stadium.
Since that Indigenous Round triumph over the Dragons, South Sydney have rattled up seven wins from nine outings to emerge as the premiership smokies.
Leading the red-and-green charge has been Walker, whose personal tally from his past six games reads: four tries, 10 try assists, eight line breaks and 25 tackle busts.
Walker cruises through
It's a compelling run of form for the 30-year-old, who this time last year was about to kick off what turned out to be tense contract negotiations that required Wayne Bennett's intervention for a two-year deal to be locked in.
Walker's 2019 campaign navigated rugby league's extremes and then some, with his NSW Origin debut in game one ending with him being hooked late at Suncorp Stadium, and then dropped by Fittler.
Leading into the contest Walker had found himself front and centre of the anthem debate.
The proud Yuin and Bundjalung man has only solidified his status as one of the game's true Indigenous leaders since.
At the other end of the scale Walker has also served a two-match ban for being involved in a street fight late last year.
Fittler has been nothing but impressed with Walker's ability to leave it all behind him once he takes the paddock, confirming that a utility role in this year's NSW Origin campaign was well and truly under consideration for the Rabbitohs five-eighth.
Quick thinking from Graham gets Walker a double
"There was a lot going on. He dealt with a lot – he deals with a lot – but now it seems he knows how to move the distractions to where they need to be and he addresses it when he has to,'' Fittler said of Walker's progress since that fateful Origin debut.
"I think recognising that and the things that were going on off the field and the role they ended up playing, you can see he's done a lot of that this year as well.
"He's stood up for different things and he's been able to handle that a lot better. That's just maturity.
"You've got to go through something to work out sometimes how it happens and how to react to it. And he's done that. He's a really mature bloke Cody."
Reynolds and Walker continue to weave their magic for Allan
With just five players from non-finals teams selected in his initial extended NSW squad on Sunday, Fittler confirmed that finals form will be a significant factor in the make-up of that first Blues side picked after the October 25 grand final.
While Nathan Cleary is a lock at No.7 and Luke Keary is odds on to partner him at the scrum base, Walker could well land himself a bench utility role based on recent form.
"Absolutely he can," Fitter said.
"He's in such good touch. But once again, we're most probably going to get a better gauge on him in the next couple of weeks more so than what's happened in the last 20 rounds. Origin is a pressure cooker.
"I assume he's just gonna brain it over the next couple of weeks. But we're going to get the best gauge this week."