Cody Walker has admitted he hasn’t helped himself at times during his career.
But on and off the field, the Souths’ five eighth is making amends in 2021.
The 31-year-old is on a nine-match try assist streak that’s put his season among those of the game’s greats.
And with Walker, aided by brilliant fullback Latrell Mitchell, the Rabbitohs are primed to push premiership favourites Melbourne and Penrith all the way to the first weekend in October.
The Souths’ five eighth has in the past tested the patience of teammates and administrators.
Storm staff were reportedly unhappy with him when he abandoned that club’s system in joining the Rabbitohs in 2014. Not long after signing at Redfern, Walker was suspended while facing charges of domestic violence that he denied and were ultimately withdrawn.
While he finally made his first grade debut in 2016 as a 26-year-old, the Casino Cougars junior was causing ructions not long after, demanding an improved contract from Souths. And then there was the street fight reported early last year for which he apologised to his teammates.
But while there have been times where his decisions haven’t helped his cause, assisting others has become his on-field trademark as part of Souths’ electrifying backline.
Walker’s 28 try assists for the season rank first in the league, and only Johnathan Thurston in 2015 has had more in a season since 2013, when the league began recording them with consistency.
Though earlier records suggest some players have recorded assist tallies even higher, a round by round tally of try assists since 2013 makes it clear Walker is on a historic tear.
And unlike other playmakers high on the assist leaderboard, very few of the tries put on by the Souths’ five eighth have come via a kick. He has tallied just four in 2021 compared with 10 for Daly Cherry-Evans and Mitch Moses.
Souths’ famed left side, through which 59 tries have come this season, is where Walker does most of his damage.
Yet while other elite halves like Jahrome Hughes and Jarome Luai mostly occupy one side, Walker has also been regularly deployed in successful backline forays down the opposite flank.
Walker may be the one credited with the try assist, however he is reliant on forwards running straight lines to slow the lateral speed of the defensive line and create an overlap.
Part of what makes Walker so deadly is his versatility.
In fact, his assists collection more closely resembles that of a fullback like James Tedesco, Clint Gutherson or emerging star Nicho Hynes.
With Mitchell and Walker in the side, it means Souths have two hard-running, floating ball players on both sides of the field.
Together with their support cast, headed by Alex Johnston and Dane Gagai on the left, the result is scintillating.
Where to from here
South Sydney has won 16 from 19 matches this season, and the club’s only defeats have come against the Storm (twice) and Panthers.
Some have written the Rabbitohs off, given they have conceded 50 points in two of those matches.
But injuries have brought Penrith back to the pack, and the Rabbitohs will be primed for September with clashes with the Roosters and Panthers still to look forward to.
Finally, Walker has proven a huge help off the park too.
He was Souths’ nominee for the Ken Stephens Medal this year, awarded to a player within the NRL at the end of the season for their contributions to the community. He has been a prominent figure in Indigenous advocacy.
And Walker has reportedly put contract talks on hold to limit distractions during Souths’ premiership mission.
If he assists the cardinal and myrtle to a grand final victory, there’ll be a career payday to which he’s entitled to help himself.