Walsh solves Penrith's halfback issues - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Walsh solves Penrith's halfback issues

By Steve Jancetic 06/06/2009 02:15:52 PM Comments (0)

If Penrith go on to give the NRL a real shake in 2009, there is little doubt their coach Matthew Elliott will look back at his side's round-seven victory over Gold Coast as the turning point.

Elliott will remember less the grit or tenacity his team displayed in beating the then competition leaders 34-20 at CUA Stadium, but more his decision to include the Newcastle discard Luke Walsh in the troubled No.7 position which had plagued the club since the departure of premiership-winning captain Craig Gower.

Since being installed as Penrith's chief playmaker, Walsh has steered the Panthers to five wins from six matches, with their only defeat coming last weekend against ladder leaders St George Illawarra.

Walsh produced his most complete game in Friday night's 26-10 win over Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval, scoring two late tries.

Asked whether Walsh's arrival could be credited for the side's revival, Elliott said:

"It'd probably be unfair not to wouldn't it.

"I think there were a lot of elements and components to a very, very competitive team and Walshy's arrival has allowed us as a team not to focus so much on constructing play, he can do that.

"It's fantastic having him.

"I remember our first training session with him, and (Panthers' captain Petero Civoniceva) and I looked at each other sideways and said, 'Oh, that's right, that's what a halfback does for you'."

Since Gower's departure to play rugby union in France, Elliott has experimented with any number of options at first receiver, but all were either manufactured No.7s or simply not up to NRL standard.

Livewire Jarrod Sammut spent most of the pre-season training there, but when Elliott noticed Walsh struggling for a run at Newcastle behind former NSW No.7 Jarrod Mullen, Scott Dureau and new recruit Ben Rogers, he called Knights coach Brian Smith to enquire about Walsh's availability.

Days later he was on his way down the F3 to the foot of the mountains.

"I felt we needed a halfback and I did my homework on him ... he obviously had a few blokes in front of him (at Newcastle) but I'm delighted for him," Elliott said.

"He wasn't in a great place playing in the local comp in Newcastle and we're all seeing now he's a little bit better than that.

"I just felt we were a little skinny in that area. Obviously we had a dabble with a couple of halves and we have an abundance of sixes. Wade Graham, Luke Lewis who plays like a six when he's fresh and Jarrod Sammut's a natural six - I probably had Jarrod doing stuff that really curtailed his natural game.

"We had to play structured footy because we didn't have that natural half that could provide us with that leadership."

Walsh said his slide down the pecking order at the Knights hadn't dented his confidence, claiming he was sure he could handle top-grade footy if given the opportunity.

"I had plenty of confidence, I knew I just needed a crack," Walsh said.

"I got my chance here at Penrith and I've taken it with both hands."

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