Queensland Under 18

1910

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It is not often that a 16-year-old footy player gets to sit down with a premiership-winning coach and a Clive Churchill Medal winner to talk about rugby league.

But it is what Queensland Under 18 halfback Sam Walker got out of that experience that says as much about his character as it does about his prodigious ability.

Walker, currently signed to the Brisbane Broncos, is being chased by a dozen NRL clubs and has already found himself the subject of back page story in The Daily Telegraph as a possible long term replacement for Cooper Cronk.


The Sydney Roosters are one of the clubs interested in Walker and earlier this year he sat down for breakfast in a Coogee café with coach Trent Robinson and five-eighth Luke Keary to talk footy, a day after touring the Roosters facility with his parents Ben and Kylie.

When asked what he got out of the experience, Walker didn’t talk about contracts or his future. He spoke about his constant goal - to be a better player and person.

"It was really good to sit down and learn. Trent Robinson is the first head (NRL) coach to speak to me about the way I play and I picked up little tips," Sam said.

"Trent is the best coach in the NRL at the moment and it is good to hear from the best. I’ve only ever had my dad and uncle (Shane) correct my game and encourage me how to play, so it was really good to hear his thoughts on how I can become a better player, because I am always learning at the moment.

"I am turning 17 very soon and I know I need to get better and improve.

"I spoke to Luke Keary about how he works with players and gets the best out of them. They have got a really strong team and culture at the Roosters and I picked up on that."

Walker, who was a standout for the Ipswich Jets in the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup this year, and will line up for the Queensland Under 18 side against NSW on Wednesday night at Suncorp Stadium, has been absorbed in rugby league since he was an infant.


'What a weapon!' - Sam Walker



'What a weapon!' - Sam Walker
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'What a weapon!' - Sam Walker
His father Ben Walker and uncle Shane Walker, both former NRL stars themselves, have been coaching the Jets since 2011 and Sam has been a regular presence at training, where he has absorbed the philosophy of "Jets footy" almost by osmosis.

Ben knows his son will soon have a big decision to make, but the club he plays with in future will be determined by the quality of the coach.

Ben said the Roosters experience was extremely worthwhile.

"I think it was good for him. The Broncos had played the Roosters the night before so Keary was talking to Sam about what he did against the Broncos," Ben said.

"Sam was able to say 'I saw you do this against the Broncos' and 'why did you do that?' and Keary was able to explain why. Keary was very open and articulate with what his thoughts were during the game.

"Trent was talking about the same sort of stuff. We had spent the day before at the Roosters and they showed us around and explained what they were going to do and what they could offer. The club is really impressive."

Walker’s play has also been impressive, to say the least.

Sam Walker in action for the Ipswich Jets. Photo: QRL Media
Sam Walker in action for the Ipswich Jets. Photo: QRL Media
Those who have seen clips him play will often say "how did he do that?"

The teenager has all the skills and others that don’t exist.

Wrack your brain and try and think of a football he reminds you of and the only one you can think of is…Sam Walker. He is his own man, but it is no surprise Maroons legend Johnathan Thurston is the player that he looks up to.

"That is because he always wanted his hands on the ball, which is the way I play," Sam said.

"If his team needed points he would create an opportunity, so as I grew up I would pick up little tips off him."

The creativity of Walker’s play is a testament to the environment he has grown up in.

"It has been awesome. It is pretty rare to be in my position... since I started playing footy, my dad has always been coaching at a high level with the Ipswich Jets," Sam said.


"I’ve grown up with my uncles (Shane and Chris), father and grandfather (Garry), who played at a high level for so many years, and I’ve always been getting tips and ideas off them about how to improve my game.

"My dad has always encouraged me and steered me in the right direction which is why I play the style of footy I do today.

"I love getting my hands on the ball and if there is space, attack the space.

"I don’t like sitting back and waiting for an opportunity. I’ll try and create an opportunity myself and create points. You’ve got to be able to be on both sides of the field and be creative. If there is an opportunity and you let it go by there might not be another one for half an hour or an hour, or even again in a game.

"The higher level footy I play the harder the opportunities are so you have to take every opportunity I get."

Walker has handled the hype around him with a cool head and with a focus beyond his years.

Sam Walker, for the Queensland Under 18 side, during opposed session with the Maroons. Photo: QRL Media
Sam Walker, for the Queensland Under 18 side, during opposed session with the Maroons. Photo: QRL Media
"I have had a few clubs interested, but at the moment I am trying to focus on my schoolwork and get the best OP and grades I can because I want to go to university and hopefully study something in the business area," Sam said.

"Nothing really happens unless I am playing good footy.

"Now that season has finished with the Jets I am looking forward to playing First XV rugby hopefully with Ipswich Grammar this year. That is a goal.

"I am trying to set my goals as I go along. Firstly I want to play really well for the Queensland Under 18s and represent my state well. I am not looking too far ahead."

Walker is in the elite development squad at the Broncos and said he was learning plenty on and off the field at the club.

"We have a welfare officer at the Broncos that is really supportive and looks after you in that respect," Sam said.

"There is also the strength and conditioning, speed work and physio if ever I need it so all that is helping me improve and make my football become better.

"My goal for me this year is to enjoy my footy as much as I can. It will probably be my last with my mates at school and in my club."

- Merged

Just a few years ago David Fifita and Tesi Niu were playing backyard footy together, now one is making his State of Origin debut and the other is following closely in his footsteps.

When Fifita was named to make his Origin debut for the Queensland Maroons, one of the first congratulatory texts came from his younger cousin Fanitesi (Tesi) Niu, who himself was preparing to wear the maroon jersey for the Queensland Under 18 team.

"I saw it straight away on Instagram that he had made the Origin squad," Niu said.


"I texted him and he texted me back."

The sentiment of the text message exchange? Love and gratitude.

"I was proud of him. Growing up together, there wasn't a lot to do, we struggled a bit, and it's so good to see him make it," Niu said.

"A bit of brother love through text."

As kids, they were always playing rugby league - with whoever wanted to join in, and wherever they could find a blade of grass.

"It's the game I love," Niu said simply.

"David Fifita, he's my first cousin - we would just play footy against each other. Just me and him.

"Growing up, I would play everywhere, anywhere - the park, the backyard, out the front of the house. Anywhere. I just loved playing."

From the backyard to the representative ranks
It was just 12 months ago the pair were part of the Queensland Under 18 team that suffered a narrow 16-10 loss to New South Wales at the MCG.

Niu, who turns 18 in August, was one of the youngest boys in the squad last year and is relishing taking on a more senior role in camp this year.

"All the older boys looked after me last year, because I was one of the youngest along with two other boys Xavier (Coates) and Jake (Simpkin) - I was 16 at the time," Niu said.


"Dave (Fifita) and Tino (Fa'Asuamaleaui) really took me under their wing and looked after me the whole camp.

"It was a good experience; playing against the best level players on the NSW side and it was good to play for Queensland with some of the boys I usually play against."

From young gun to senior leader
Not intentionally, but Niu realises he is once again following in his older cousin's footsteps - as a senior player in the Under 18 camp, with the responsibility to look after the younger boys.

"I feel pretty old," the 17-year-old said with a laugh.

"But the other boys are all tall ... and I'm one of the shortest on the team, so I guess I feel young too but I am one of the older boys this year."

It's a responsibility he doesn't begrudge.

"As one of the older boys, I just try to lead by example with the other older boys and look after the young boys and bring us all together," Niu said.

The talented player, who is happy anywhere in the backline, will line-up at left centre in the State of Origin Game I curtain-raiser.

Primed for Maroons redemption
While excited for his older cousin's State of Origin debut, Niu's mind is solely focused on redemption for Queensland's loss in the Under 18 match last year.

"We went down last year, but I reckon all the boys gave their all last year, it is just what it is... that's State of Origin," Niu said with a hint of disappointment because of the result.

"This year we have a great group again. A group that will work for each other and hopefully we can get the job done on Wednesday night.

I know we have the team to do it, and I believe in them.
The added bonus of playing in Brisbane in front of friends and family is not lost on the youngster, who started playing rugby league for the Forest Lake Magpies before moving to Souths Acacia Ridge Magpies and then Logan Brothers.

Niu's mum and dad will be in the stands at Suncorp Stadium along with Fifita's mother and brother. His two older brothers, older sister and younger brother will be live streaming the match at home.

"I'll definitely be sticking around to watch Dave and Queensland in the State of Origin," Niu said.


"I think he'll be focused on his debut, so I'm not expecting him to be watching my game, but he knows I'll be looking."

Impressive displays as a 16-year-old in Souths Logan's Auswide Bank Mal Meninga team promoted Niu to an Intrust Super Cup debut for the Magpies this year - where he started playing more games in the centres as opposed to his usual fullback spot.

"I always wanted to play for Souths, after seeing all the older boys making the Cup team," Niu said.

He has scored two tries in his seven appearances and averages 100 metres per game.

The 17-year-old believes the Intrust Super Cup has made him a better player, which he hopes will help Queensland to a win in Under 18s this year.

"Playing Cup is very physical and tough, but it's fast too," Niu said.

"There's no room for making errors."

Following in Fifita's footsteps ... but no pressure
A laid-back Niu is passionate about his rugby league, there is no denying that. But, he also doesn't put too much pressure on himself.

"I am sort of following him (Fifita) in what he's doing," the Broncos-contracted player said.

But rather than feel the pressure to make his NRL debut as an 18-year-old like his older cousin, he uses Fifita's success as motivation and inspiration.

"He is where he is now because of what he is doing," Niu said, referring to Fifita's dedication to training and his work ethic.

"He is an inspiration for me.

"Playing in the NRL, it is a long-term goal, but for now I'm just trying to focus on playing good footy and being consistent in what I do.

"I'm playing the game I love and I just try to do my best."

 
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1910

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Who do you rate higher 1910, Walker or Dearden?
Depends what you want, Walker is different I keep using the word instinctive because football is just part of him he understands it because he's been immersed in it like his dad and uncles their whole life.

Hard to compare while one is playing MM and one is playing NRL. Dearden is clearly more developed and mature but skill wise Walker does things a NRL can't do but he's yet to do it outside his age group.

I actually think they would be beautiful together.
 

peter09

NYC Player
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Depends what you want, Walker is different I keep using the word instinctive because football is just part of him he understands it because he's been immersed in it like his dad and uncles their whole life.

Hard to compare while one is playing MM and one is playing NRL. Dearden is clearly more developed and mature but skill wise Walker does things a NRL can't do but he's yet to do it outside his age group.

I actually think they would be beautiful together.
Sounds like from that he will be leaving the broncos
 

Jedhead

NRL Player
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I'm not saying this to support Benny, but if we go back to the 1990-2006 era when we were a powerhouse club I don't think young Walker would be looking any further than Red Hill.

It's a prime example of how the Broncos brand has fallen in recent years. Last week my nine year old nephew who plays for East's juniors told me and his father that he was changing from supporting the Broncos and was now going for the Storm.

Everyone loves a winner, but when a nine year old changes allegiance that easy at such a young age despite being taken to most Bronco games and being surrounded by a couple of diehard Broncos fans it does not look good for us.
 

1910

State of Origin Rep
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Hamiso Tabuai–Fidow is a proud Indigenous lad from Cairns, and a fullback to boot, so it is no surprise being coached this year by Matthew Bowen rocked his world.

Tabuai-Fidow will line up with the Queensland Under 18 side against New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night after playing under Bowen this year in the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup competition for the Townsville Blackhawks.

The 17-year-old has won a new North Queensland Cowboys deal after moving from Cairns to Townsville at the start of the year to play under Bowen and develop his game.


"It is really good to be coached by Matty Bowen because I looked up to him when he was at the Cowboys - as a player and a role model," Tabuai-Fidow said.

"It has been a pleasure to play under him as a coach. He’s chilled and really laid back. When he played he was just so fast. With his speed he could score a try out of nothing and I’d love to be like that.

"He is a fullback and I am a fullback and he has really helped me with what I need to do at the back directing boys, off the ball and running lines. I have heaps of respect for him."

When it comes to pace, Bowen had plenty of it. His protégé is not lacking in that department either.

'What a weapon!' - Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow



'What a weapon!' - Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
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'What a weapon!' - Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
"I have been timed once over 100m and I did it in 10.85 seconds,” Tabuai-Fidow said.

It is no wonder that the Cowboys have snapped up Tabuai-Fidow long-term. A try scoring whiz, last year he scored five in a club game for Cairns Brothers.

He is set to train next year with the Cowboys full-time and fulfil a childhood dream.


"The Cowboys are the club I have always wanted to play with because they were so close to home and I have signed with them for another three years, until the end of 2022," Tabuai-Fidow said.

"I just re-signed and that gave me a lot of confidence and made me eager to keep working hard to get to the NRL one day.

"I sat down with the Cowboys (recruitment boss) Clint Zammit and he explained what the next couple of years will be for me. I go full-time as a development player next year and I am pretty keen for that.

"I am looking forward to training with guys like Michael Morgan. With his leadership, hopefully he can help me.

"Johnathan Thurston and Matty Bowen are Indigenous and I saw what the club did for them. I want that to happen for me as well.

"JT is a big role model for us Indigenous boys. I’ve never met him, but I hope to meet him soon."

Tabuai-Fidow attends Kirwan State High School in Townsville and said he was thriving at a school known for producing Cowboys stars.

Hamiso Tabuai–Fidow during Queensland Under 18 training. Photo: QRL Media
Hamiso Tabuai–Fidow during Queensland Under 18 training. Photo: QRL Media
"Jason Taumalolo, Nene Macdonald and Gideon Gela-Mosby all went there too so it is known for having great rugby league players,” Tabuai-Fidow said.

The Queensland Under 18 custodian can't wait for Wednesday night to roll around and he will be following half Sam Walker around the same way Bowen was always in support of Thurston.

"This is my first time playing at Suncorp Stadium. I am looking forward to playing with all these Queensland boys. I can’t wait," Tabuai-Fidow said.

"The way (halfback) Sam Walker plays I am going to be following him around. I am pretty keen to play beside him."

 

peter09

NYC Player
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Do you think Simpkins is a big loss for us? Also, do we have any good fullbacks coming through?
Only time will tell mate , he is a tough kid who is ultra competitive but doesnt get all the media hype like all the other 17 year old superstars , the fullbacks coming through I would have said Tesi but he seems to have shifted to the centres so next in line would be Reece Walsh in my opinion.
 

Big Pete

International Captain
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Tabuai-Fidow, Coates and Walker go OK.

I would hate to defend against Walker. He doesn't beat people with a step, he beats them with a twitch and he's got pace to match.

Can his day and uncle attatch an Ivan Cleary clause to his NRL contract?
 
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Footy Fanatic

QCup Player
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What about the speed of Fainu!

A prop forward nearly chased down Niu.

Great read by Tesi to wrap it up for the Maroons.
Has played well. He and Coates have looked dangerous every time the ball has gone to their side.
- Merged

Broncos boys have given a great account of themselves. Most of the standouts have been Broncos contracted players.
- Merged

Coates is man of the match.
 
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Sirlee oldman

NRL Player
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Has played well. He and Coates have looked dangerous every time the ball has gone to their side.
- Merged

Broncos boys have given a great account of themselves. Most of the standouts have been Broncos contracted players.
I like that they aren’t just physically talented but seem really well drilled and organised.
 

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