At the start of the season, Jesse Walker had a rugby league championship on his mind – it just happened to be in London, not Nelson.
Jesse spent two years in the UK playing for the West Warriors rugby league side. There he won a championship in 2016 and his team qualified for the prestigious Challenge Cup competition, where the Warriors reached the third round, the furthest any London-based amateur team has made it in the competition.
But an expired visa found the 24 year-old builder leaving his teammates and heading back home to Nelson.
“I wasn’t even thinking of playing when I got back because it was half way through the season and the teams I played for before I left [the Tahunanui Tigers and Stoke Cobras] had folded.”
A couple of phone calls from the Richmond Rabbits tempted him back onto the pitch and on Saturday he picked up another piece of silverware, although his first in Nelson, as the Rabbits ran up 44-30 winners over the Wanderers Wolves in Saturday’s grand final at the newly-minted Champion Field, at the Saxton Field complex.
“It’s awesome. The way these guys have welcomed me into the team, I’ve loved it.”
Jesse was one part of the halves combination with Hayden Smith that kept the Rabbits on the front foot early in each half, with the Wolves dominating the latter periods and almost pulling off a stunning comeback with some handling errors in the final 10 metres letting them down on several occasions.
Jesse says it was a tough match but he was thrilled to finally win his first Tasman Rugby League winners medal.
“It’s bloody great coming back for something like this. The way we came out firing was great for the boys and then the momentum switched and they got back into it, fair play to them but I’m proud of the boys – how we were able to grind it out in that last 20 [minutes].”
He says it’s been a surreal 12 months winning a title in two countries, something he’s still struggling to believe.
“If someone had told me at the start of the year that I’d be winning a title with the Rabbits, I wouldn’t have believed them. The footy career has certainly been boosted up a bit in the last couple of years.”
Jesse says he isn’t sure what’s next for him.
“I’m just going to enjoy tonight with the boys and see what happens next.”