Walters, Speed reignite premiership-winning combination
RUGBY LEAGUE: The fortunes at the Orara Valley Axemen took another giant leap forward with the club announcing premiership-winning hooker Rhys Walters would play at the foot of the mountains this season.
The 28-year-old, who has played more than 200 first grade games in the Clarence Valley, had been rumoured for a club switch this season after he failed to return to South Grafton Rebels pre-season training.
The dummy-half spent half a season at the Lower Clarence Magpies in 2017, before returning to the Rebels to help lead the club to the Group 2 grand final against Grafton Ghosts.
But an opportunity to link up with his former coach from earlier days at the Ghosts, Col Speed, was too much for the league veteran to pass up.
Speed was delighted to announce the signing, adding Walters to a long list of 2018 acquisitions at the Axemen including Luke Beaumont, Vinnie and Garnett Williams and AJ Gilbert.
"I am over the moon, you always want to try and recruit blokes who have been to the top before,” he said.
"The amount of grand final expereince Rhys has is almost unmatched in Group 2 footy. I think he even has me covered for grand finals.”
It is a moment of coming full circle for the determined number nine, with Speed giving Walters his first crack at the starting hooker role at the Ghosts a decade ago.
Since then Walters has played in six first grade grand finals, winning four of them.
"He has grown so much in terms of maturity since I last coached him at the Ghosts,” Speed said. "But he is still that tenacious little bloke who refused to quit.
"He loves to play his footy, and we can't wait to have him playing in the Axemen colours.”
It was a deal that sort of fell in the lap of Speed, and while it has thrown a few of his season plans into disarray, he was happy to have the trouble.
"He sort of got in touch with us, and I just laid it out straight to him about the commitment we would need, the money we could offer,” Speed said.
"I think he is worth every cent and he could honestly have earned more playing elsewhere. But he asked if I had space for an old bloke who didn't want to retire.
"We have an abundance of good hookers at the moment, and finding a spot for them all will be tough, but it's a good headache to have.”
Orara Valley is preparing for a trial against Macksville Sea Eagles in a fortnight before they head away to Evans River and host the Redfern All Blacks on March 24.