Confirmed By St Helens: Walsh To Become A Saint
It is a move that has been doing the rounds of the rumour mill for a few week now. Luke Walsh may be contracted to the Penrith Panthers, but it is all but a done deal that he will be released from his contract and will take up a deal to go and play in Super League with St Helens.
So how do I see this move working out for Walsh and St Helens?
As the Panthers halfback for the last few years Luke Walsh has impressed me and disappointed me. He has made me think he is capable of being considered for representative honors and at other times made me question if he is even a first grade quality player.
Luke Walsh made a name for himself as one of a group of good young halfbacks that were fighting it out to take over from the great Andrew Johns at the Newcastle Knights. That Walsh didn’t end up being the Knights permanent number 7 isn’t really a black mark against him. That decision came down to being the right player at the right time getting the right opportunities.
Walsh made the move to the lowly Penrith Panthers in a move that was that of a young bloke backing his own ability. He stepped into a Panthers side that was at the time coached by Matthew Elliott.
Long term, like many players that played for the Panthers during that time, I think the fact that Walsh played for so long under Matthew Elliotts coaching really ended up hurting his career. His game didn’t develop the way it should have and the end result is the player we see today.
Walsh was the centerpiece of a Panthers side that had an extremely simplistic game plan. Grind the ball up field, then try and get a good kick in on the last tackle. This was the time when Luke Walsh become known for his bread and butter play, the cross field kick to his outside backs.
To be fair to Walsh, he is really good at the cross field kick. He can land the ball right on the try line time after time and give his team a chance to either attack the bomb to try and score, or to tackle the defender that catches the kick and force them back in goal.
The bad news is, after going back to this play for so many years, Walsh really hasn’t got a great deal more to his game.
His long kicking game to find meters down field isn’t all that special. He also isn’t great at short kicks behind the line. He is not terrible at these things, he just rarely uses these tools to try and break a defense open.
the biggest problem with his game is that he just refuses to take the line on himself. He does not run the ball. He is a surprisingly good ball running on the extremely rare occasion he takes on defenders himself. He has fairly good footwork and a nice turn of pace that is especially dangerous when he has the opposition pinned on their own line. He simply doesn’t run the ball anywhere near enough though. To the point where it has basically seen the Panthers give up on him.
As an organizer Walsh is not all that good. In a game a few weeks ago Andrew Johns pointed out that Walsh does a lot of pointing to the players outside him telling them where he wanted them to be. Johns opinion was that every time Walsh points out wide, that is when he should run the ball. Walsh played for so long in a Matthew Elliott coached side where his job was just to shovel the ball to enough forward for a hit up, it is as though he just does not know any other way to play.
The result is that you get a halfback that doesn’t offer a great deal in attack, who has a serviceable kicking game, who is only dangerous when he is ten meters out from the opposition line, and who is simply not the well rounded, well skilled halfback you need to be to be a success in the NRL.
So how will Walsh go in Super League and for St Helens?
First of all I think it is fair to say that Luke Walsh is the best that a Super league clubs can hope for in an import now that the NRL salary cap is rising. NRL clubs simply will not lose players they want. The reason St Helens can get Luke Walsh is because the Penrith Panthers don’t want him any more.
There is no doubt that Walsh will add something to the St Helens side. At Super League level he could end up being one of the better halfbacks. He won’t tear the competition apart, but he will offer St Helens a solid halfback that can do more than most other halfbacks in the Super League competition.
If St Helens can recruit some outside backs that are specialists under the high ball, Walsh may very well offer the club an attacking weapon that see’s them return to Grand Final contention. His cross field kick will without doubt be the best in Super League and will cause opposition teams all sorts of problems.
Against Super League defensive lines Walsh could really excel if he just starts running the ball more. If he can have the coaching staff at St Helens drum it into his head to stop looking out wide and take the defense on more, he could turn into a really great buy for the club. That required a fundamental change in the way he things about playing the position, but I have a feeling with the right support and coaching, coupled with what he will see in opposition defensive lines, I think Walsh can make that change.
Is Luke Walsh a good signing for St Helens? Yes. Will he tear up the competition like say Rangi Chase? Probably not.
I like this move by St Helens though. Walsh is a thousand times better than any of the halfback options they have used so far this season. He will be a more effective player for St Helens than a number of their current imports and lets face it, the club needs a radical change, and Walsh can bring that.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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