Excited pundits have earmarked teen sensation Reece Walsh as the game’s next transcendental superstar, but only provided we don’t burden him with too much pressure.
Some judges have even suggested that if we temper our expectations through his formative years, he could even become the next Sam Walker.
Walsh has burst on to the scene in recent weeks with a portfolio of highlights so impressive it has almost drawn attention away from his Hollywood eyes, a breakout even more breathtaking considering it has happened amid the uncertainty of being a teenager, a new father and a New Zealand Warrior.
Furthermore, the boom rookie’s stunning emergence has managed to shine through the game’s recent pandemic of sin-bins, and all the other transgressions not committed by Victor Radley.
But despite this sizzling start to his career, the rugby league public must afford the young Warrior the patience he deserves as a kid. As such, we must keep him clear of Origin discussions for as long as possible, i.e. at least until Game 2.
For those unaware, Walsh is in the first trimester of a high-ceiling career with just five games under his belt, meaning he has surpassed the media’s threshold for hyped hot takes three weeks ago.
The 18-year-old has arrived for the Warriors with a series of free-wheeling masterclasses so undeniable it has shunted Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to the barren solitude of the wing, a move proving beneficial for accustoming the skipper to his upcoming life in rugby.
Walsh finds himself under the tutelage of Nathan Brown at the New Zealand franchise after earlier slipping the net of Queensland’s most famous rugby league club, Keebra Park High School.
Following his time at the famed nursery, the 18-year-old had stints as an Ipswich junior and then a Brisbane Bronco where he was identified as a future superstar, as evidenced by the Broncos’ decision to release him.
Now after a handful of electric performances, the rookie stands on the cusp of the game’s greatest honour – being the subject of a representative tug-of-war.
Born in New South Wales to a Polynesian mother and a father of Indigenous heritage before representing Queensland in junior rep footy, this means the young playmaker will most likely suit-up for the Maroons before being linked to the All Blacks and ending up at the Roosters.
But with his precious speed and bankable marketability, how can we – the maniacally-affectionate, baying rugby league public – ensure we care for Walsh in his youth, thus guaranteeing him a long and prosperous career of dealing with our unfair expectations?
Burdening our youth prodigies has rarely resulted in positive returns in rugby league.
Only Israel Folau and Sonny Bill-Williams have survived the onslaught, with the latter handling the persistent heat with aplomb until mystifyingly fleeing the sport in the middle of the night.
Whether it’s Chris Sandow, Tim Smith, Todd Carney or Ash Taylor, the game has often commenced with unconditional love for its next-big-things before ultimately marking their 21st birthdays with $850,000 to play Queensland Cup.
But as per these many cautionary tales that have come before the youthful Walsh, and his newly-arrived playmaking contemporaries like Walker, Joseph Suaalii and Albert Kelly, perhaps this time, rugby league has learnt its lesson.
That is why I am confident we will grant the Warriors rookie the space and time to develop his game, at least until he wins this year’s Dally M.