Billy Slater smacks down ugly claims about Reece Walsh ahead of return in State of Origin 2

Slater insists Walsh won't carry any demons into Game 2.

Queensland coach Billy Slater insists there will be no lingering demons for Maroons fullback Reece Walsh when he takes to the MCG field on Wednesday night. Game 2 will mark the first appearance for the 21-year-old since being knocked out by Joseph Suaalii just eight minutes into the series opener.

Walsh was forced to miss the last two Broncos games due to the NRL's mandatory 11-day stand-down period but has passed all concussion tests and has been cleared to return to action. In preparation for his return, the Maroons fullback has been seen going above and beyond in Queensland camp. On Thursday, Walsh stayed back to continue to train well after the rest of the team had all gone home, doing some extras to prepare for what is expected to be another testing night for the Queensland fullback.

Billy Slater says there are no lingering worries from Reece Walsh's Game 1 concussion. Image: Getty
Billy Slater says there are no lingering worries from Reece Walsh's Game 1 concussion. Image: Getty

Some people have suggested the hit from Suaalii could result in Walsh becoming somewhat 'gun shy' in Origin 2 or at least more wary with the ball in hand. But Slater insists Walsh won't be carrying any demons into the match. "That's the first time I have thought about demons and Reece Walsh. He has been incredible all week, he was incredible in his preparation for Game 1 and he started well in Game 1 and I expect no different," Slater said at the pre-game press conference on Tuesday.

"I love the way that he plays, I love the attributes he has in his game and I love the way he works hard to go after it. It's been a pleasure to help him do that this week and get his game on."

Suaalii's hit on Walsh has been a major talking point leading into Game 2, with NSW vowing not to stop going after the young fullback at the MCG. Queensland officials were left seething that NSW 'targeted' Walsh in Game 1, but the Blues have denied they deliberately tried to take him out of the game.

On Tuesday, when Slater was quizzed on whether he thinks the Blues would employ similar tactics to that of Game 1, the Queensland coach said he doesn't know what their rivals are planning to do. "That's not a question for me I don't think," Slater joked.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05:  Reece Walsh of the Maroons is attended to by medical staff after been tackled by Joseph-Aukuso Sua'ali'i of the Blues during game one of the 2024 Men's State of Origin Series between New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons at Accor Stadium on June 05, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Reece Walsh was knocked out by Joseph Suaalii just eight minutes into the series opener.

NSW coach Michael Maguire was then subsequently asked if the Blues would target Walsh in Game 2. He delivered a very diplomatic answer saying: "We have put a lot of focus on all of their players. It is not any individual."

But NSW five-eighth Jarome Luai on Monday admitted Walsh will again be a major focus of attention for the Blues. "I think he's an awesome player so if you're one of those great players, there's going to be a target on your back regardless," Luai said on Monday. "It's no one's intention to physically hurt someone the way he got hurt, but I think from a defensive perspective you need to have that mentality on someone that fast and that skilful otherwise he's going to hurt you.

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"You can't go in 50 per cent or anything like that. At the end of the day that's Origin footy, things are happening at 100 miles an hour. It's a contact sport. He's a dangerous man if you give him that space and time. We're going to try and restrict him as much as we can by sticking to our systems and not much is going to change."

with AAP