Story by Mitch Jennings – Illawarra Mercury
WHEN he reported for duty last season, Thirroul coach Jarrod Costello put finding a genuine No. 7, and a proven winner, at the top of his recruitment list.
He found both in bringing 2014 premiership-winner Jake Walsh back to the club, but he didn’t realise the red-hot streak he was buying into.
Sunday’s grand final stoush with Wests will be Walsh’s fifth straight decider, having won three straight Ron Massey Cup crowns the past three seasons.
Walsh led Mounties to back to back titles in 2015-16 before shifting to Wenty for a third triumph last year. It wasn’t something Costello was aware of until he rang
“When he decided to come back I didn’t understand he was going for his fifth in a row until I spoke to his former coach Chris Yates to organise a trial,” Costello said.
“He said ‘geez you’ve got a lucky charm there’. I asked him to explain what he meant and he told me he was going for his fifth straight grand final.
“He said ‘wherever Jake Walsh goes he brings the trophy’. I texted Walshy straight away to say ‘is this fair dinkum?’ I thought this has to be a gee up.”
It remains to be seen if it lands the Butchers the final prize, but it’s been a good move with Walsh one of the Paul McGregor Medal favourites ahead of Sunday’s grand final.
“We needed a genuine seven, we knew he played for us before and all the boys really liked him,” Costello said.
“He’s mates with all the guys, he was in our 2014 premiership-winning team so he knows the club, all the boys love playing with him so it was he perfect fit.”
Having saluted with the Butchers, partnering then coach Nathan Fien in the halves, Walsh said he’d always hoped to don the blue and white again.
“I was always going to come back it was just a matter of when,” Walsh said.
“I went and played in Ron Massey for three years but it just felt like the time was right. I spoke to Jacko and he said the one thing they’d sort of been lacking was a genuine halfback.
“I guess there was a little bit of pressure there but, in saying that, the team we have, led by Johnno [Joel Johnson] makes my job pretty easy. I’ve been pretty fortunate with Payney [five-eighth Jack Payne] coming back to play with us from ISP. He’s been great for us and he’s awesome to have there.
“We went over things and how we wanted to play and when he came back he picked it up in one session. We’ve progressed on and made it easier for each other and clicked really well. He’s been outstanding.”
Walsh said he will lean on the grand final experience he’s picked up in recent years in what’s sure to be a tight contest against the Devils on Sunday.
“I think it’s just about knowing what the team needs at certain stages of the game,” he said.
“Whether you need to get the ball out for a rest or if we need to keep it in and pin them in a corner. You just need to try and get a read on the game and always think about what the team needs next.”