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Project Reece: Turning a gifted teen into an elite player

His talent is beyond doubt, but if Reece Walsh is to scale the lofty heights many have predicted, his work ethic and commitment must be beyond reproach.

Walsh exploded onto the scene on Anzac Day last year, debuting for the Warriors at fullback and going on to produce a stellar rookie season which included nine tries, 11 try assists and 53 tackle breaks.

The footnote to Walsh's stratospheric rise was a fall from grace in October when he pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine and was placed on a good behaviour bond. He was also fined $5000 by the NRL and given a two-game suspension although he is permitted to play in the Warriors' pre-season trial against the Storm.

"Reece is an elite talent to do what he did at his age but to become an elite player there’s a lot more to it and Reece is learning those things along the way," said Warriors coach Nathan Brown.

"I suppose the end of last year was a bit of a kick up the backside for him and he has learned a lot from that."

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Apart from dealing with the pressures and pitfalls of instant fame, the other enormous challenge for the 19-year-old is to back up year after year as he looks to carve out a career in the NRL.

Countless gifted youngsters have started in a blaze of glory over the years only to fall victim to 'second year syndrome' as they find themselves targeted by rival teams and weighed down by the expectations of fans, media and team-mates.

Brown is confident that with the right guidance and support, and the benefit of a full pre-season, Walsh can enhance his reputation further in 2022.  

"Reece achieved a lot last year just off the back of his talent. He had probably never done a full pre-season before because at the Broncos he had compartment syndrome and had to have surgery," Brown said.

"So basically what we saw Reece do last year was just a gift from mum and dad, all natural talent.

"He's a young kid who has been through a lot of changes but the key is Reece learning to do the things that aren’t natural for him, and he is making progress in that area.

"I know where he wants to get to is becoming an elite player and we all drive him to get there.

"The hard work and investing a lot in his game is what is going to help Reece ultimately become the best player he can be.

"Sometimes the blokes like Reece who are so talented and can achieve a lot so quickly, sometimes it takes a few lessons along the way to get there."

When it comes to fullback play, James Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic set a high bar, but Brown is quick to point out that at 29 and 25 respectively, 'Teddy' and 'Turbo' have years of experience to draw on in high pressure situations.

"Reece has a long way to go before he becomes the player he wants to become but he's only 19, and if you look at a bloke like James Tedesco, where he is now and look where he was even three years ago, you can take huge strides," Brown said.

"Learnng how to train hard and how you be professional and give your body it’s best chance to recover and turning up the next day and doing it all again, that’s a challenge for all young kids with talent.

"Reece is gifted with a lot of skills that most people don’t get gifted with and we saw last year what he did to sides off no preparation, but learning to be a professional, that's a taught skill.

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"One other thing for a young fullback is the defensive demands and that’s a real challenge and Reece is working hard on that part of his game."

Along with Brown and his coaching staff, Walsh also has seasoned veterans Shaun Johnson, Addin Fonua-Blake, Tohu Harris and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to turn to for advice.

Walsh was just eight years old when the mercurial Johnson debuted in first grade with the Warriors, and the playmaker's return to his spiritual home in 2022 has given rise to renewed optimism at a club which has played finals just once in the past decade.

Kiwi captain Watene-Zelezniak joined the Warriors from Canterbury midway through last year and with the benefit of a full pre-season the 26-year-old is ready to rumble.

"Dal is very experienced, his work ethic is first class, and it's good for young blokes to see the way he conducts himself on and off the field," Brown said.

"Some of the boys are a bit quiet so Dal’s talk is important for them."

You get the feeling Walsh will be all ears when his senior men offer words of wisdom aimed at ensuring his journey from gifted rookie to elite professional is a smooth one.


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