It was the big change for the little men, and it was precisely the reason why Warriors coach Nathan Brown has no hesitation in throwing his support around any crackdown introduced by the NRL over the past year.
Warriors youngster Reece Walsh cemented his status as one of the league’s hottest young talents with an electric display in his team’s thrilling 30-26 triumph over the Wests Tigers on Friday night.
In a performance that will leave a sour taste for all Brisbane fans, the former Broncos prodigy scored a try, set up three, and saved another for good measure.
Brown has gone to great lengths to protect his budding superstar from being exposed too early, playing Walsh off the bench over the past fortnight.
And that’s where he would’ve started again on Friday night, if not for the interjection of captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and veteran Addin Fonua-Blake.
“I’ve been quite protective, as everyone knows, of the young bloke,” Brown said.
“If it wasn’t for Roger, he would’ve come off the bench tonight. They were pretty clear they wanted him out there, and he did pretty well.”
The 18-year-old is the latest in a growing list of teenage sensations to take the competition by storm, including Sydney Roosters whiz kid Sam Walker.
Wests Tigers fullback Daine Laurie, arguably his team’s best in Gosford, is another who’s emerged in a strong rookie class brimming with pint-sized talent.
And Brown credited ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys for delivering them.
“When the horseman changed all the rules, he’s enabled these little players to actually get into the game and actually play footy,” Brown said.
“Not get hit in the back late like was happening for ten years, and people getting their heads torn off, and people diving into people’s knees.
“We’ve actually got these kids that actually can play footy. We don’t coach them, they just go and play. Your heart’s in your mouth sometimes, but you’ve just got to let them go.”
Brown remains determined to slow down the hype around his excitement machine, saying it took Newcastle legend Andrew Johns up to five years to fulfil his potential.
Friday’s game was Walsh’s fifth appearance in first grade.
“When Andrew Johns was 18 or 19, it took Joey four or five years before he was capable of taking the Knights to a premiership. And he’s one of our most influential players ever,” Brown said.
“The defensive part of the game of fullback is really hard these days. There’s a lot of pressure on them. From Reece’s first game there, to now, he’s improved out of sight.
“He’s working hard to add that part of his game. The attack bit’s pretty natural for him… He kicks the ball terrific, but what kick’s required at what time of the game?
“They’re things he’ll learn over time.”