The ‘what to do with Reece Walsh?’ conundrum is the hottest topic among Warriors fans at present – and arguably the most intensely-debated positional discussion in the club’s history.
The 18-year-old is clearly something special, threatening to bust a game wide open with virtually every touch. Since his Anzac Day debut, the Warriors have largely floundered without him on the field.
Yet as he attempts to arrest a two-game losing streak on Friday against Wests Tigers, Nathan Brown looks set to start Walsh on the bench for the third straight week. The coach also confirmed his preference is to shunt skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck from fullback to wing, rather than reshuffle underperforming five-eighth Kodi Nikorima and hooker Wayde Egan to accommodate Walsh.
The raw numbers from his sizzling month-long NRL career make it hard to justify leaving Walsh to collect splinters for half a game.
Walsh has scored a try in each of his two interchange appearances. Despite uncertainty over how long he’ll spend on the paddock against Wests Tigers this Friday, the teenager is on the fifth line of Warriors Anytime Try Scorer betting at $2.60 – level with strike centre Euan Aitken and considerably shorter than starting halves Kodi Nikorima ($3.40) and Chanel Harris-Tavita ($3.75).
REECE WALSH 🤩
— NRL (@NRL) May 16, 2021
Walsh already has four try-assists to his name in four appearances – two on debut against the Storm and one against each of the Cowboys and Sea Eagles. This places him in the NRL’s top 10 for most try-assists per game in 2021. Nikorima (six in 10 games) is the only Warrior with more try-assists this season, with RTS and Wayde Egan – who have both played all 10 rounds – level with Walsh on four.
Walsh’s elusive ball-running has been arguably the most dynamic feature of his kitbag, racking up five line-breaks already – including three sensational efforts in 46 minutes of game-time against Parramatta on Sunday. Tuivasa-Sheck (7), Nikorima (7), Ben Murdoch-Masila (6) and Ken Maumalo (6) are the only Warriors with more in 2021, while his current average of 1.3 line-breaks a game is behind only Mathew Feagai (2.0 in one game), Tom Trbojevic (2.0 in five games) and Josh Addo-Carr (1.4 in in 10 games) in the NRL.
How slippery is he? Walsh already has 16 tackle-breaks to his credit – including a team-high seven against the Eels. His average of 4.0 per game places him equal-26th in the NRL, with Tuivasa-Sheck (5.2) and Adam Pompey (4.1) the only Warriors higher on the list. Aside from wrecking-ball forwards David Fifita and Isaiah Papali’i, the top-25 are exclusively fullbacks, wingers and centres.
Walsh had just 10 running metres in his eventful 26-minute cameo against Manly, but racking up 98 metres from fullback against Melbourne, 103 metres at five-eighth against North Queensland and 159 metres in just 46 minutes against Parramatta.
— The Shark (@TABShark) May 19, 2021
A striking feature of the way Walsh has been utilised has been the amount of kicking responsibility he’s been shouldered with. The rookie’s kicking game needs refining, but it’s easily the biggest in the team – Walsh has a rocket-launcher for a boot, while Nikorima and CHT and plugging away with slug guns. Playing five-eighth against the Cowboys, Walsh was the responsible for 14 of the Warriors’ 15 kicks in general play with Nikorima kicking the ball just once. Walsh recorded his first forced drop-out against the Eels.
One of the primary justifications for leaving Walsh out of the halves is his supposed defensive frailties. So far the prodigy has made 17 tackles and missed six. He was exposed against Manly – after getting thrown into the frontline cold midway through the second half amid a Tom Trbojevic blitzkrieg. Nikorima has made 198 tackles this season and missed 23, a vast improvement on 2019 (213 made, 46 missed) and 2020 (305 made, 59 missed) at the Warriors. But the Kiwi Test half was given a bath on the left edge by the Storm – it’s hard to imagine Walsh doing a markedly worse job without the ball.
In the past two weeks, the Warriors have scored 26 points and conceded 46 in 88 minutes without Walsh on the field. They’ve scored 24 (including two tries and an assist from Walsh) and conceded 26 in 72 minutes with the wunderkind there.
So how will he be used in Friday’s crunch NRL Round 11 game? If there was a market, Brown would be $1.05 to pitch Walsh into the action when the Warriors are behind on the scoreboard and under immense pressure.
But every indication we’ve had so far is the kid will rise to whatever challenge he’s presented with.
The Warriors are $1.51 favourites to account for the erratic Tigers – who are rated a distant $8.30 Top 8 chance – on Friday night, giving away a start of 5.5 points. As outlined by TAB’s The Shark, there’s some tremendous angles on a handsome Warriors victory.
I'm keeping the faith when the Warriors return to Gosford tomorrow night. Are you backing the boys to get the job done? pic.twitter.com/Q7EMhVtmtk
— The Shark (@TABShark) May 20, 2021