“I debuted in 1995, I spent most of 1996 coming off the bench for the Broncos, and it wasn’t until 1997 I had my breakout year.
“Wayne [Bennett] was happy to bring you in for a few games, turn you out, then bring you back in – it was all about being shown that pathway to being a regular first-grader.
“Sam is in the thick of things week in and week out. He seems to be enjoying himself. He backs himself with those cut-out balls, and he’s tough.”
Despite plenty of headlines about the Broncos letting Walker slip through their fingers, Lockyer, who is on the club’s retention and recruitment committee, said he has never met the Ipswich whizkid.
“The first I heard about Sam being a missed opportunity was when I read it in the press. I’d never seen him play until he played with the Roosters,” Lockyer said.
Walker’s highlights reel features plenty of looping passes for tries, but he has also survived no shortage of bruising shots after passing or kicking. One person who deserves special praise for preparing Walker for the physicality is former Ipswich Jets captain and now coach Keiron Lander.
Lander spent countless training sessions trying to flatten or run over the top of Walker, and said he was hardly shocked the pint-sized playmaker had continued to bounce to his feet. A hit by Melbourne’s Justin Olam last month remains the biggest on Walker yet.
“People closest to Sam were never concerned about his toughness and commitment in defence. He hasn’t shirked any task or responsibility,” Lander said.
“All the best players, Johnathan Thurston was one of them, but their ability to use their technique to be in a better position when they’re tackling is rare. Some blokes who aren’t strong in defence end up under a bloke. Very rarely do you see Sam end up under a bloke.”
The Broncos sent former back-rower Tevita Pangai Jr on a search-and-destroy mission with Walker earlier this year, which caused Victor Radley to get upset and ultimately cost himself an Origin debut after he was suspended for a month.
As for who would be entrusted with going after Walker on Friday, Walters quipped “we’ve got 17 Broncos queued up ready to go for that one”. Walters also said Walker had “got a lot more football under his belt” and would not be as easy to get at.
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