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Luke Walsh explains why he has swapped Sydney for St Helens
GRIPES about the weather and the urgency to beat rivals Wigan is the now traditional preamble from any Australian being asked about first impressions of St Helens.
But when new Saints scrum half Luke Walsh moves away from that small talk – not that beating Wigan is small – you get the impression of a man determined to say what he has to on the pitch rather than to the press.
There were no grand statements or bold predictions coming from the half back that Nathan Brown lured away from Penrith, but there were plenty of astute observations from arguably the club’s most significant Antipodean signing since Jamie Lyon.
Wearing a baseball cap and tucked away on the fringes of the press conference room, Walsh gave a clear impression of not really wanting to put himself in the media spotlight.
Given his role as the new linchpin of the Saints side and the club’s first hard-nosed scrum half since Sean Long left at the end of 2009, it is not a spotlight he will be able to evade.
Walsh, who had a cracking season with the Panthers in the NRL, and at 26 is still in the prime of his footballing abilities, explained why he had made the switch to the northern hemisphere.
He declared: “I have come here for a challenge; to take on something different - that is my main reason. I spoke to Browny a few times last year and that was a big factor.”
Having been in the country since mid November, Walsh is now settled and his first impressions of his new club have all been positive.
“I looked at the squad before I came. It is a pretty young squad and watching the young blokes in pre-season, they are training the house down.
“If you look at someone like Jonny Lomax – he is going to be a fantastic player. Jonny has got all the skills and trains hard and I am looking forward to getting on the paddock with him,” he said.
Big things are expected from Walsh – not least from the boot and those who watch NRL regularly will testify on his ability to put the ball on a sixpence for his wingmen.
Walsh knows exactly what he has been brought 12,000 miles to do.
He commented: “It is pretty much my job to kick and guide the team around and have a calming influence on the game.
“In training I have been doing a lot of work the wingers – they are getting a lot better too. The kick is only as good as its chase. Tommy Makinson and Adam Swift are two quick young lads who want to learn and that is something I enjoy doing.
“We will see how it goes when the season starts, we have gelled really well at training and the combinations have been working well.
“You never get tested until you are out on the paddock but we can gel a few things together now.”
As is the norm with overseas recruits, they invariably arrive when the British climate is at its most hostile. But that, in some respects, has made pre-season fitness work a touch more comfortable than back home for Walsh.
“Pre season training is similar to back home – the only difference is the pre season in Penrith is very hot, 40 degrees so doing fitness in that is pretty tough. Obviously it is colder here but rest is similar – the gym and field sessions,” he said.
Walsh has signed a two year deal, but would not be drawn on his longer term plans – understandable given we have not played a single game yet.
He has picked up plenty of talk about local rivalry and the burning desire to win trophies.
“Everyone just talks about the Wigan and Saints game and the big rivalry. Everyone you meet tells you that beating them is all that matters.
“I spoke the guys here – the club want to win trophies and we have to take the silverware home.
“I’d love to play at Old Trafford particularly since I have jumped on the Man U bandwagon since I have been over here,” he said.