AFTER coming close twice, Lake Macquarie captain Sam Walker was thrilled to finally win the Northern NSW NPL leading scorer title.
Next year, though, the prize he wants is finals football with the Roosters.
Walker led with 16 goals, two clear of Broadmeadow’s Kale Bradbery and James Virgili, in the regular season despite Lake Macquarie finishing eighth on 20 points, 14 points outside the top four.
The 26-year-old capped the achievement with a match-winning 90th-minute free kick in the 2-1 victory over Lambton Jaffas at Macquarie Field.
In the end, he didn’t need the goal to stay top but it was a fitting finish for Walker, who stuck with Lake Macquarie through two seasons of second division. He was pipped at the post for the scoring award by Kane Goodchild in 2014 when the Roosters finished last.
“I think it was just good wrapping up a win and to finish the season on a good note, especially against a top-four team,” Walker said of the winner against Jaffas.
“We’ve had too many of those games go against us this year. I think most of our losses were by a goal and usually a late one.
“It’s not really an award you set out to achieve at the start of the season, but I’d been close twice.
“It felt good wrapping up the third chance and obviously you want to move onto finals next year and be more competitive team wise. But individual awards like that, I’ll definitely take that.”
Walker has signed on with Lake Macquarie again, despite attractive offers from other NPL clubs.
Coach Nick Webb said it was great to have Walker’s loyalty as they look to build off their 2018 attack, which had 35 goals – the equal fifth best record in the league.
“We’ve come eighth and he’s won by two goals,” Webb said. “It’s an absolutely amazing achievement and it could have been many more.
“He’s enjoyed the challenge we’ve put forward to him this year and the group we have is really tight, which is why they’ve all re-signed.
“We can see the potential. It’s not just about playing and finishing seventh or eighth and saying we did well this year. We finished eighth and he can see, and so can all the team, how close we were to becoming semi-final contenders and he wants to be a part of that this year.
“And he’s just a great representative for the Lake Macquarie club. He was at the games on the weekend when our 18s got through 3-0. He’s just a great team man.”
The club is planning to help Walker build his sports performance and development business, Natural Directions Health, and the striker was hoping to return the favour on the pitch.
“We had a decent squad this year and a very young squad, so if everyone comes back – the top 14 were kept, so that looks likely – we should be good for next year,” Walker said. “Every year you need to add one or two players for that experience or just to change things up, and make things more competitive, so good signs ahead.”
Lakes could lose Paul Sichalwe, who has returned to Zambia for trials, and Tom Sparre, who may move to Sydney for work. Charlestown’s Daniel Minors is tipped to join the Roosters.