When Latrell Mitchell went down with a season-ending hamstring injury against Parramatta in August, people began to write South Sydney off for 2020. Mitchell led the league in linebreak-assists at the time and, was truly growing into the fullback role.
But while some wrote off the Redfern-based outfit, the injury reinvigorated one of their stars. Whilst Mitchell was left hamstrung, Cody Walker’s game elevated dramatically. Not only was he starring at five-eighth, but he became a sort of second fullback, dragging himself over to the right edge as well as his usual dominance on the left to make up for the absence of Latrell.
The duo’s paths have been intertwined for quite some time. They debuted against one another in Round 1, 2016, yet they never played on the same side until the 2019 Indigenous All Stars game, a match Latrell missed the World Club Challenge for.
They became New South Wales teammates as well in 2019 before both being dropped after Game one, and there’s no doubt Cody played a role in getting Latrell into the cardinal and myrtle in 2020, so who would’ve thought that an unfortunate injury could bring out career-best footy in the other.
Across his first 14 games of the season, the 14 before Mitchell’s injury, saw Walker produce nine try-assists (0.64 per game), six tries (0.43 per game) and run 1,325 metres (94.6m per game).
In 12 months, Wayne Bennett has helped Cody Walker overcome one of the most difficult periods of his career – and now the Maroons coach could pay for it big time, via @BulldogRitchie https://t.co/20GV9PEqxx pic.twitter.com/x2izvW1CAO
— Telegraph Sport (@telegraph_sport) November 9, 2020
He went to another level afterwards.
His involvements, specifically on the right edge, increased out of sight. In his seven games post-Latrell’s injury, Walker came up with 12 try-assists (1.7 per game), four tries (0.57 per game) and run 751 metres (107.3m per game).
It was a role similar to that we saw him play off the bench against Queensland last Wednesday night.
The mercurial five-eighth played a floating lock role that saw him swing between edges, and in his 19 minutes he finished with only three metres less than Luke Keary, more offloads than Nathan Cleary, and was clearly the Blue’s most dangerous attacking weapon.
However, don’t let Cody’s play take away from the form of custodian Corey Allen, who was dynamite for the Bunnies at the back end of the season, though Walker playing both sides of the field definitely made the job that little bit easier.
There’s little doubt Latrell would’ve been included in Brad Fittler’s 27-man squad if fit after the way he was performing pre-injury, but hopefully for New South Welshman, Cody can bottle that form for two weeks longer and redeem his 2019 Origin series.