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Talks with Walks: Ex-Wallabie Walker was here for rugby 10s, vows to return

RUGBY: In last week’s edition of The Phuket News, and in this writer’s article concerning the Phuket Vagabonds taking home the Cup for the second time in the history of the Hooter's Phuket International Rugby 10s, it was mentioned how the event is now drawing bigger names from the world of rugby, and one name mentioned in that article was that of ex-Wallabie Andrew Walker who was here representing the Lord Howe Woodhens.

Matt Pond

Sunday 11 June 2017, 02:00PM

For those who don’t know Walker, he is an indigenous Australian rugby player who had represented his country in both rugby league and rugby union – a dual code international.

He was the first dual code international to represent his country at rugby league before representing rugby union.

Born on November 22, 1973, in Shoalhaven, New South Wales, Walker grew up in the nearby town of Nowra, and began his career as a rugby union player for Randwick, where he played alongside Eddie Jones in their 1991 premiership-winning season.

But his career has also seen him play for the St George Dragons, Sydney Roosters and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles to name a few.

But it was in July 2008 at the age of 35, when Walker, who was at the time playing for the Easts Tigers in the QLD Cup competition, finally announced his retirement from representative rugby union.

The reason given by Walker for his retirement was fatigue and a need to spend more time with his family who supported him through his successful but troubled career.

However, in early January 2010, Walker signed a minor contract with the Goodna Eagles Rugby League Club based in Ipswich, Queensland becoming the biggest signing in Ipswich Rugby League history.

Moreover, as recently as February this year, Walker was seriously thinking about making a return to the playing field with the ACT Brumbies who were considering offering the now 43-year-old a full-time comeback deal.

In what would have been a remarkable comeback story for an ex-rugby league and rugby union star, Walker emerged as a genuine recruitment option after impressing coach Stephen Larkham at the Brisbane 10s.

Larkham said the Brumbies coaches were “half joking at first”, but declared the Brumbies were open to all options, including signing Walker, as they attempt to fill the holes left by departed stars and season-ending injuries.

Had the deal gone through, Walker would have become the oldest player in Super Rugby history, however, only if he is called upon, but sadly that didn’t materialise – presumable given his age.

The Phuket News was lucky enough to get a chance to speak to Walker on May 28, ahead of the Lord Howe Woodhens victory over the Bangkok Bangers Colts, in the Plate Final of the Phuket 10s.

Although calling it a day in his professional rugby career back in 2008, Walker is still very much involved in the rugby community. Walker last year helped coach the Lloyd McDermott development team, an Indigenous side that features in the National Schools Championships.

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More recently Walker has been based in Darwin, where he still enjoys a game with the South Darwin Rugby Union Football Club, and also works with a youth group which assists young offenders housed in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

“This is something that I really enjoy doing,” Walker told The Phuket News, “I’m just trying to help these young kids so that they’re prepared for when they make the transition back into the outside world.”

Why is this issue so important to Walker?

Well few people have experienced the highs and lows of life like Walker, and he has certainly seen the a lot of the lows – a childhood of poverty, racism and abuse; becoming a father at 17 and dealing with drug and alcohol issues that cost him a large part of his career. But Walker’s original motivation for working with these young people was to pass on the life lessons he has learned the hard way. From teenage pregnancy to alcohol and drug abuse, the need for employment training and, as much as anything, arming themselves with the tools to ensure good decision-making.

But turning his attention back to rugby, Walker said that although he has previously played in similar competitions this was his first time in Thailand for the 10s.

“I’m really enjoying this experience. It was Adrian ‘Moose’ Skeggs who got me involved with the Lord Howe Woodhens and they have such a great bunch of people on their team,” he said.

“I’ve personally known ‘Moose’ for years and just after playing in The Brisbane 10s competition for the Brumbies he called me and said that he saw that I still had what it takes to play and wanted to know if I would join them for this trip.

“How could I refuse,” he added.

But Walker explained that he and his teammates weren’t just here for fun.

“Ah mate, as soon as you run on that pitch it’s not about having fun, it’s rugby and it’s serious,” says Walker.

“But saying that, the time has not just been about rugby and as a whole this holiday has been fantastic.”

Would he come back? “I’ll always come back now,” he said with 100% enthusiasm.

When asked what he thought events like the 10s does for rugby, Walker said, “Events such as the Hooters International Rugby 10s, despite being held on a small island as it is, can only make rugby bigger, not only for Phuket but also for Thailand,” he said.



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