State of Origin 2022: Reece Walsh throws down gauntlet to Kalyn Ponga for Maroons fullback role

He has yet to score a try in 2022 but don’t think Reece Walsh is worried about his game. On the contrary, he thinks he’s playing well enough to make a strong case for the Maroons No.1 jersey.

Warriors whiz kid Reece Walsh insists he isn’t fazed by his try-scoring drought and he is ready to challenge Kalyn Ponga for Queensland’s No. 1 jersey.

Walsh will head into Sunday’s round 9 clash against the Sharks in Sydney looking to score his first try of the season after this week committing to a move to New Zealand next year.

After crossing nine times in a sensational 16-game rookie campaign last year, Walsh hasn’t scored a try in seven games this season and his drought stretches nine matches.

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Reece Walsh is confident it’s only a matter of time before he scores his first try of 2022.
Reece Walsh is confident it’s only a matter of time before he scores his first try of 2022.

With only three try-assists and two line breaks next to his name this year, Walsh’s attacking output for the Warriors is clearly down.

But he isn’t worried about his lack of four-pointers after making huge improvements in his defensive game.

“Not really, that stuff will come if I keep putting myself in good positions,” Walsh said when asked about his try-scoring struggles.

“I haven’t been playing the best footy so far this year, I haven’t made as much of an impact as I can.

“I need to demand the ball and want the ball. We’ve still got a while to go in the season.

“I feel like my game is slowly going in the right direction. I haven’t had the biggest impact on games that I had last year. That is all about oppositions studying me a bit more and putting a bit more light on me.

“I’m not too worried. If I can keep going in the right direction where I’m getting better each week, I will be pleased with that.

Walsh was picked for Origin last year but was a late withdrawal.
Walsh was picked for Origin last year but was a late withdrawal.

“My goal in the first nine rounds of the competition has been to get my defence right. I want to be an all-rounded player, not just attack. I feel my defence has improved a lot.

“I’ve still got more to learn but I’ve been pleased with my defence lately. I want to start getting my attack back on the roll.”

Walsh, 19, burst on to the NRL scene last year with the Warriors after being released by the Brisbane Broncos.

He made such an impact he was picked to make his State of Origin debut for Queensland in Game Two of the series after just seven NRL appearances.

Walsh’s fairytale was shattered by a hamstring injury during the Maroons’ captain’s run on match eve and Ponga returned for the dead-rubber won by Queensland.

Now the Gold Coast product wants redemption in the 2022 series and assured new Maroons coach Billy Slater he was ready for the Origin arena.

“Last year was a bit unfortunate, that’s footy sometimes, injuries happen,” Walsh said.

Kalyn Ponga is struggling for form and the Maroons No.1 jersey is up for grabs.
Kalyn Ponga is struggling for form and the Maroons No.1 jersey is up for grabs.

“I feel like I’ve got to keep working on myself and if that opportunity comes, it comes.

“For now I’m just worried about doing my best for the Warriors and putting in a consistent effort every week. Hopefully I’m going in the right direction.

“If it comes, I will make sure I’m ready and firing on all cylinders.”

Slater, a 31-game Maroons legend who starred at fullback, has been watching Queensland’s No. 1 contenders closely.

Ponga has his nose in front for the custodian duties, but Slater said Queensland’s next generation of fullbacks were exciting prospects.

“Reece had a week with the team last year (before Game Two) and he trained really well. I was across all of his stuff at training and I was sad for him when he went down with a hamstring injury in captain’s run,” Slater said.

“He had a great week and I’m sure he will benefit from being part of that preparation.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow made a big impression in his Origin debut last year.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow made a big impression in his Origin debut last year.

“With me understanding the fullback position, watching the likes of Kalyn, Reece and Hammer (Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow) has been enjoyable.

“We’ve got some really talented young players coming through when you look at the fullbacks.”

The Warriors have had a turbulent start to the season with some tight wins and a shocking 70-10 loss to the Storm.

Walsh has confirmed he will move to New Zealand next season when the Warriors return home, quashing speculation he could seek a release to join expansion club the Dolphins.

With his future settled, he wants to continue developing and become a key player for the Warriors.

“I want to be a better footballer and better for the team,” he said.

“If I come in each week and think I’m doing all right because I’m 19, I wouldn’t deserve to be here.

“I want to be better for myself and my teammates.”

Originally published as State of Origin 2022: Reece Walsh throws down gauntlet to Kalyn Ponga for Maroons fullback role

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