Northallerton’s unlikely match-winner Josh Walters could not believe his pivotal, yet short, role in winning the Grand Final for Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The 21-year-old back-rower came off the substitutes’ bench to score a decisive try but was injured in the process and went straight back off.
The try levelled the scores and set up Kevin Sinfield’s conversion which edged Rhinos to a 22-20 victory over Wigan Warriors.
Walters said: “Two years ago I was playing rugby union for Leeds Carnegie and if you’d said I’d score a Grand Final try I wouldn’t have even been listening. I’d have stopped when you said I was playing for Leeds Rhinos!
“It’s surreal. I got a call a couple of weeks ago saying that I’d probably be 18th man, so I told most of my friends there was no point in coming!
“There was only my mum and my little brother and my girlfriend at the game.
“I got told on Tuesday I’d be playing and I was shocked when I found out. I could never have thought this in my wildest dreams.
“I’m just thankful that Mac (coach Brian McDermott) had faith in me to pick me in the team and actually put me on, as there’s been a couple of times this year where I’ve been in the squad but never got off the bench.
“I don’t even know if it has sunk in yet – to get a try in a Grand Final at Old Trafford for Leeds Rhinos, it’s mad really.”
“For me it was just making the most of the chance I got and I managed to do that.”Describing his try, Walters recalled: “To be honest I didn’t think Jimmy (Keinhorst) was going to pass.
“I had a look in front of me and I didn’t know whether I was going to get whacked or what.
“I just caught a ball and the next thing I knew everyone was on top of me and the try was scored.”
Walters switched codes in 2013 and made his Rhinos debut a year later. Saturday was his first play-offs tie, his 11th Rhinos appearance of the season and only the 21st in his top-flight career.
“For me personally, it has been a disappointing season, apart from (the Grand Final) obviously,” he said.
“It’s an unbelievable team that I’m playing with and it’s been so hard to break in. I just got my head down all season.
“There’s been times where I was thinking my season was over, especially when I played Super-8s and couldn’t go back to Hunslet, where I had a great time playing on dual-reg, as I was club-tied. I just had to get my head down and keep working as hard as possible.
“Thankfully it has worked out for me.”