Cronulla coach John Morris revealed after a heartbreaking 26-18 loss to Sydney Roosters that the Sharks' game plan had to been to start strong in the belief that his more experienced playmakers would steer the team home.
“But it was actually the opposite,” a bitterly disappointed Morris said after teenage Roosters halfback Sam Walker scored a try and laid on two others in seven minutes to instigate a stunning comeback at the SCG on Saturday night.
“We couldn’t get going in that back 20 and then young Walker stepped up and found a try and a couple of try assists with his passing game so he is going to be a real talent. He had a good game.”
Walker shrugged off a concerted campaign by the Sharks to target him in defence to lead the Roosters to their second successive win since losing star playmaker Luke Keary to a season-ending knee injury.
Match: Roosters v Sharks
Round 5 -
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
With hooker and co-captain Jake Friend retiring last week and five-eighth Lachlan Lam also sidelined with a knee injury, many had written the Roosters off, but Walker showed maturity above his years to lead them to victory against Cronulla.
“We expect that because we see it often at training and the ability to take that from training into a game, usually there is a barrier there called nerves or fear of the big stage," Roosters coach Trent Robinson said.
"When that is not there, whatever you can do at training you can do on the field, and that has been the case so far."
Walker weaves his magic to get Roosters home
Robinson's injury list got longer after losing hooker Freddy Lussick with a suspected broken arm in the 18th minute, while his deputy Ben Marschke was placed on report for a crusher tackle.
With Sam Verrills still several weeks away from returning after suffering an ACL last year, Robinson may have to find another hooker from the club's lower grades to deputise in coming weeks.
However, the way that Walker, five-eighth Drew Hutchinson and Marschke have stepped up has created confidence that the Roosters will cope with any situation.
"If you get negative about it,you will get a negative result," Robinson said. "If you are positive about whoever you pick they will play well so that is what we will do.
“We lost Freddy with a broken arm and I thought Ben, Sam and Drewy, those three, handled the ruck really well, they handled the opportunities we did get later in the game and they iced them.
“A show and go, a couple of long balls on millimetres there was really good. That’s what you expect from guys who keep playing footy."
Walker floats a pass to Brett Morris
The Sharks lost captain Wade Graham in the 14th minute after he failed an HIA for the second time in the past three weeks and centre Josh Dugan joined him on the sidelines after suffering a head knock just before half-time.
After leading 18-4 in the 62nd minute, Cronulla couldn't hang on and conceded four late tries – one of which was scored by Walker, who threw the final pass for wingers Brett Morris and Daniel Tupou to score.
Morris’s second try in the 76th minute took his tally to 11 in the opening five matches of the season to equal the record set by former South Sydney winger Michael Cleary in 1962.
Saturday in Sixty: Round 5
Early on it had been all Cronulla, with winger Mawene Hiroti scoring in the fourth minute and fullback Will Kennedy extending his team's lead to 10-0 after only 12 minutes when he dummied to pass and crashed through Walker to score.
The Sharks targeted Walker in defence and the 78kg playmaker finished his second NRL match with 15 tackles and five missed tackles.
However, Walker maintained his composure and a cut-out pass by the Ipswich product put veteran Morris over in the 26th minute.
Sharks chance their arm on the last
A 34th minute Townsend penalty goal after a late tackle by Jared Waerea-Hargreaves gave Cronulla a 12-4 lead at half-time. When Jesse Ramien outleapt Hutchinson for a kick from the Sharks playmaker to put Jack Williams over 13 minutes after the re-start the visitors remained in control.
Momentum began to turn when Roosters five-eighth Hutchison dummied and charged at the line to score in the 63rd minute and then Walker took over to steer his side to victory.
With Tupou scoring off a long floating pass from Walker in the 70th minute and prop Siosiua Taukehaio converting from the sideline, the Roosters were edging closer down by just four, 18-14.
Walker put the home side in the lead for the first time in the 73rd minute when he dummied and stepped inside Townsend to score and sealed the win three minutes later with an overhead pass for an unmarked Morris to cross in the corner.