Schoolboy prodigy pegged to fill Cronk’s shoes
THE Sydney Roosters have earmarked the hottest teenage talent in rugby league since Kalyn Ponga as the long-term replacement for Cooper Cronk.
Ipswich rookie Sam Walker, the 16-year-old son of former NRL star Ben Walker, was in Sydney a fortnight ago with his father for talks with the big-spending Roosters.
Walker might be almost 20 years younger than Cronk but has so much potential he was signed to a development scholarship with the Brisbane Broncos at just 12.
That expires this year.
The Ipswich Grammar Student is also being chased by the Australian Rugby Union.
He plays rugby union at school and rugby league on weekends for the Ipswich Jets under-18s in the Mal Meninga Cup.
The halfback turns 18 in 2021, the year the Roosters believe he will be ready to play first grade.
Two weeks ago, Walker flew to Sydney to meet Roosters coach Trent Robinson for talks about his future.
Five-eighth Luke Keary was also at the meeting to try to persuade him to join the club.
His dad played for the Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and the Brisbane Broncos in the halves.
It is understood Walker is leaning towards the Roosters because of Robinson's record as a coach/mentor in developing young players and because of the culture that he has created at Moore Park headquarters.
This is despite the Canterbury Bulldogs offering almost double what the Roosters are prepared to pay.
Although he is a halfback, Walker has similar attributes to Ponga.
He runs the football more than conventional halfbacks but has great vision and organising skills.
His signing would leave the Roosters with a short-term problem for a halfback in 2020 when Cronk hangs up his boots at the end of the season.
The most likely outcome would be to switch Keary to halfback and possibly play Latrell Mitchell at five-eighth, where he would get more touches of the football.
At least eight other NRL clubs have been chasing Walker.
New Zealand Warriors recruitment guru Peter O'Sullivan flew from Auckland to Brisbane to watch him play last month.
Still, the ARU refuses to give up hope of signing the youngster.
Whatever happens, he is likely to become the highest paid 18-year-old in either football code.
The outstanding recent performances of Broncos teenager Tom Dearden have opened the door for other rookies to be given playmaking responsibilities at NRL level.
Dearden had a blinder opposite Cronk in the Broncos' victory over the Roosters on Friday night.