Sydney Roosters debutant Sam Walker will realise his NRL dream on Sunday, but only after some career-saving support and mentoring from a couple of his famous sporting housemates.
Walker was named in the Roosters No.7 jersey on Tuesday, and there will be few prouder people than rugby sevens golden girl Charlotte Caslick and her partner, Melbourne Rebels and fellow sevens ace Lewis Holland.
Sam Walker got through lockdown last year with help from his famous housemates.Credit:Getty
The trio live together in Randwick with Caslick revealing how hard Walker had done it during the COVID-19 lockdown, so much so he threatened to return home to Brisbane.
Walker dropped to nearly 70kg because of the stress of living away from his loved ones and not playing regular football. He said the calming influence of Caslick and Holland – no strangers to the challenges of professional sport – helped him survive his worst year.
“There were moments there last year we were really worried about Sam,” Caslick told the Herald.
“It was really hard for him because the borders were shut and he couldn’t get home. I’d often chat with him mum [Kylie] and how we were worried it would all become too much. His mum and dad [Ben] kept pushing him to stay. At the time, Sam was sick of being told he needed to stay.
“He was just so stressed. He loves footy, it’s his favourite thing, and he couldn’t do it all year. He couldn’t even play reserve grade. His girlfriend [Bella] was also in Queensland at the time.
“I wasn’t playing any sport either, we were planning for the Tokyo Olympics, so it wasn’t like he could be jealous of us going off and playing our own sport. We were doing exactly the same thing as he was doing.
“While in lockdown we spent a lot of time with Lewis’ teammates, and they were a good support for Sam as well.
“Looking back now, he stuck it out and it’s all been worth it.”
Sam Walker at Roosters training on Monday.Credit:Matt King/Getty Images
Walker will run onto the SCG turf on Sunday for the Warriors clash. He replaces the injured Luke Keary. There will be a good chance he remains in first grade all year.
His parents were allowed to exit Brisbane before the shutdown and will be at the game. Caslick and Holland, however, could miss the special afternoon as Holland sweats on making his own debut for the Rebels.
Caslick and Walker became friends when Caslick’s brother, also Sam, played under Ben and Shane Walker at the Ipswich Jets.
Just as Caslick has become a poster girl for sevens – and a huge chance of winning a second Olympic gold in Tokyo – Walker is tipped to carve out his own giant reputation in the NRL.
“Lewis and I were only speaking the other day about how Sam will go out there and kill it because he’s got so much ability and how he won’t be overawed by the situation,” Caslick said.
While all the focus was on Joseph Suaalii at a recent Roosters media day, Walker told the Herald that the pandemic and support of his family, Caslick and Holland had him more than prepared for this season.
“I think I’m ready, and having that extended break with COVID, it sort of became an extended pre-season and I learnt a lot about my game; my passing, kicking and running game,” Walker said.
“I got down to about 72kg. It was tough. I was in boarding school where a lot of food was prepared for me, then I moved and had to learn to cook, I couldn’t go out and get food. Charlotte and Lewis were so helpful.
“Mum also came down, she was my rock and another shoulder to lean on when I was struggling. But I feel more resilient now – I feel like I can take on anything.”
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