Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has backed Reece Walsh to perform in State of Origin, if the Warriors teenager gets handed an unlikely call-up.
The hype surrounding Walsh has gone into overdrive this week in Australia, with suggestions that he is being seriously considered by Queensland, with the Maroons hit by injuries and looking for a way back after a 50-6 defeat in game one.
It would be a major surprise – given Saturday's 10-6 loss to Newcastle was only his seventh NRL game – but Tuivasa-Sheck said he could step up.
"He's a kid, he's exciting and he's got a lot in him," said Tuivasa-Sheck. "We have been throwing a lot at him, been testing him and playing him against the best players.
"I'm that big of a fan I say throw it at him and see what he has got. I'm just a fan of him and if he handles, he handles it; if not, he will take it as lessons."
Tuivasa-Sheck said Walsh was capable of delivering on the park, though the off-field noise could be problematic.
"[If] he gets in there, he'll play the game like it's a game," said Tuivasa-Sheck. "But probably all the pressure and the hype beforehand is what is too much for him."
Walsh had a mixed game on Saturday. He sparkled at times in the first half, before some handling errors in the second half, and a late field goal attempt went wide.
The gale force winds were particularly tough for fullbacks, and Knights halves Mitchell Pearce and Jake Clifford tested him with some swirling bombs. But Walsh didn't shy away and kept fronting up.
"He had a lot of good and bad things, which is what you expect from a kid, but this is all good learnings," said Tuivasa-Sheck. "It's a first bad game for him in this type of weather. I told him to keep backing himself and keeping making the choice on it. I [said] you made a decision, if it was the right one play on, if it wasn't then you can learn from that…rather than sit back and let it happen."
Walsh went close to scoring from a 70-metre bust in the first half, nailed a sideline conversion with his first attempt at goal in the NRL and produced a couple of strong kicks in general play.
He rarely got the ball in good attacking positions in the second half – with delivery slow inside him – though almost scored after soaring above the pack to take a Sean O'Sullivan chip. The teenager will have nightmares about the bomb defusals in the second half, as the ball swirled viciously.
"Billy Slater wouldn't catch all of those out there today," said Warriors coach Nathan Brown. "Some of those kicks that the Knights were putting up, they were high and moving. It was more disappointing that we didn't put their fullback under the same pressure."
Walsh's rise from relative obscurity has been staggering, something that few players – even the biggest names – have had to deal with in their careers.
"Six weeks ago no one knew him [and] I believe he had 2,000 [Instagram] followers when he first came to us, now he has about 140,000 followers," explained Brown.
"He's gone from playing nothing [at all] to a star. It's got to be difficult for any young kid."
Against a Newcastle team down on confidence and missing some key players, Saturday's loss was another one that got away.
Brown lamented the team's inability to use the breeze in the first half, and their general lack of attacking structure across the match. They showed spirit to dominate the second half – into a howling gale – but couldn't win the key moments to get the job done.
"It was an ugly sort of game," said Brown. "We got ourselves in some poor positions, didn't handle the breeze well at all.
"Sometimes unfortunately blokes learn at that level and the really experienced ones just get the job done. We didn't attack very well at all."
The Warriors have time to stew on the loss, with a bye before the round 16 clash with the Dragons on July 2.
"Hopefully we can reset over the break and come back and next time when we play a few close ones we can get on the other side of the ledger," said Brown.