How Bennett created his own worst nightmare

 

The 70-year-old man who saved, secured and schooled Cody Walker may now end up being tormented at the highest level by NSW's State of Origin star.

South Sydney's Wayne Bennett has been credited with elevating Walker's game into the top echelon - an achievement that may haunt the veteran Queensland coach in Wednesday's Origin game in Sydney.

Walker has confronted a street-fight scandal, State of Origin axing and contract extension in the past 12 months - and the man who helped guide him through was Bennett.

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Now Walker, who has been rushed into the NSW starting side at five-eighth as the Blues attempt to save the series, is ready to kick sand in Bennett's face when the pair face-off in Origin II at ANZ Stadium.

They are particularly close, their relationship having been described as "great, professional, personal, special, fantastic and open".

"The two have a special relationship which has brought out the best in Cody," Walker's manager Matt Rose said. "It is quite ironic they will be on opposite sides of the fence on Wednesday night.

 

Vision emerged from a street fight in Casino involving Walker last December - four months following his shock axing after Origin I. He was soon under pressure over a contract extension which was advocated and encouraged by Bennett.

Bennett is known to be Walker's biggest supporter in the club. Souths players claim Wayne "thinks the world of Cody and Cody thinks the world of Wayne".

"Wayne's belief in Cody has produced some of the best form of Cody's career," Souths CEO Blake Solly said.

"Wayne's gift with players is very much that - he supports them and gets them to believe in themselves. Once they have that trust and confidence, then their form improves.

"Wayne has shown confidence in Cody and he has then delivered for Wayne on the field.

"It's a great, professional and personal relationship that they have and Cody' reward is starting for NSW this Wednesday night."

Walker has previously been accused of drifting in and out of games. Not anymore.

"That comment used to get to Cody but if you look at his season, he won Souths' player-of-the-year award (George Piggins) and players' player award (Jack Rayner)," one player said.

"That was largely due to the patience Wayne has in Cody, who is so much more stable and settled on the field.

"Cody just delivers now. Maybe two years ago you could argue he wasn't like that. Wayne's support for Cody has taken him to a new level."

 

Walker now has a shot at Origin redemption against the Maroons, who are 1-0 ahead in the three-game series.

"Wayne and Cody have a special relationship and I know Cody values everything Wayne does for him. He speaks so highly of Wayne," Rose said. "It has led to where Cody is right now.

"They have a fantastic relationship, it is an open relationship. It's crazy to think Cody keeps getting better each year. Wayne wants his players to be good people, too.

"Wayne was also a strong advocate to keep Cody at Souths. He was very influential in Cody staying.

"There was always interest but we got it done at Souths and it was Wayne that wanted Cody at the club. Wayne saw the value in ensuring Cody stayed at Souths."

The duo that can save New South Wales

- Nick Campton

Brad Fittler has changed the Blues halves again but in doing so is unleashing one of the deadliest playmaking combinations in rugby league.

Dropping Luke Keary shapes as one of the defining calls of Fittler's coaching career but in pairing Cody Walker with Rabbitohs teammate Damien Cook, he may have found the spark that can save the Origin series for NSW.

The speed and ability of Cook and Walker (both pictured) to support one another is one of the NRL's great weapons. They helped propel the Rabbitohs to a preliminary final this year.

Walker, 32, finished the season as the form player in the competition and now he and Cook will look to replicate that for their state on Wednesday night.

"I play with Cody every week, so that combination will be there," Cook said. "We just need to pick our times, not chase the opportunities but be patient and let our forwards do the work and back ourselves when it is there.

"We can take the belief and the confidence that we can do it. You have to believe we can get the job done still. If you don't have belief there's no point in really playing. The job can be done, we just need to go back to what works for us."

 

The Blues deadly combo. Picture: Phil Hillyard
The Blues deadly combo. Picture: Phil Hillyard

 

Walker helped spark the Blues in the final 20 minutes of Origin I and played a role in putting Josh Addo-Carr over for the game's final try. His speed and willingness to engage the line sharpened the Blues' sluggish attack, but doing it from the opening whistle is a different proposition entirely.

Regardless, it caps a fine comeback for Walker after he was dropped following his Origin debut in game one last year.

Walker seemed destined to join the graveyard of one-cap wonders but has managed to fight his way back to the top.

Fittler said he would encourage Walker to play his natural game and believed the switch would not radically change the side's game plan.

"I think everyone attacks the same these days," Fittler said. "With the new rules and the way they are, everyone hits the same line. They are pretty good at reading how many defenders and stuff.

"They know, so they know how to defend it and they will know how Queensland play, so it's just a matter of doing it when they are tired.

"It's more about Nathan (Cleary) coming in and working, blending in together."

Originally published as How Bennett created his own worst nightmare



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