Cooper Cronk, the halves soothsayer who works with Sam Walker at the Sydney Roosters, has opened up on why the young Queenslander is on the right track.
As good as Sam Walker was in his rookie year, the most impressive part of his arrival on the rugby league scene may have taken place over the off-season, far removed from the prying eyes of the public and the media.
Walker, having been singled out by the opposition in his debut year, took it upon himself to use his holidays to add some extra muscle. For Cooper Cronk, the halves soothsayer who works with Walker at the Sydney Roosters, it was another reason to believe that the young Queenslander is on the right track.
“Besides all the skill and ability, he is a tremendous kid,” Cronk said at the Fox League launch at Commbank Stadium.
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“He has a work ethic, he knows the areas he has to improve, he has applied himself and he has had a big summer.
“He got exposed to some pretty big moments that 18 or 19-year-olds never get exposed to at that point in their career. That is probably an area he had to focus on and he did it.
“It’s really good to see … when you get told to work on an area of your game, without your hand being held, you go away and do it.
“You learn on the run but the most impressive thing about Sam is his work ethic and he is a sponge for information. He has a thirst for wanting to improve and get better.
“The Roosters provide him with the resources and the only thing left to do is for Sam to go and do it. He has done that.”
Significantly, Walker has also recognised the need to work on the defensive side of his game. Attack came easy to him last season as he strolled into first grade and made an immediate impact.
Life wasn’t as easy when the Roosters didn’t have the ball. Roosters coach Trent Robinson took him out of the firing line at one point and Walker recognised that there were parts of his game that needed work.
“You can’t run round and hide,” Cronk said.
“At some stage you have to learn your lessons and he has — he has bulked up and worked closely with (assistant coach) Jason Ryles and a few other people to improve that area.”
As well as Walker, Cronk has been working closely with halves partner Luke Keary on a regular basis since their return from their mandated off-season break.
The pair will carry much of the Roosters’ hopes on their shoulders this season, Keary in particular keen to rebound after a year that was ruined by a knee injury.
The NSW five-eighth was in scintillating form before his knee collapsed. The Roosters’ hopes slipped in his absence and his return means they will again be ranked among the serious contenders for a premiership.
“He was cherry ripe,” Cronk said.
“He was very influential and dominant in the first part of the year before he went down. He is a great player, a tremendous club person and revered by the team.
“I have never come back from an ACL, I don’t know the mental scars to get back. A lot of people say you you to get on the training track but you can also do the work in the gym.”
For all the skill and talent the Roosters have in their halves, Cronk insists their premiership hopes will hinge on how well they handle themselves without the ball.
“Trent is a smart coach and he knows the areas that let (them) down last year,” Cronk said.
“You can talk about all the nuances and the players who score points, but at the end of the day I think defence is still key.”
Originally published as NRL 2022: Roosters young gun Sam Walker has heeded the warnings and bulked up