ASHLEIGH Walker still laughs at the suggestion that she is the best player in her rugby-mad family.
"That's been a bit of a joke for a while," the Melbourne Rebels centre said
Walker recently completed her first Super W campaign. The 21-year-old was named on the bench in the team of the year and was then voted the player of the year by the fans. Nelson Bay winger Maya Stewart (NSW Waratahs) was second with another former Hunter-based player, Brumbies breakaway, Rebecca Smyth third.
"It was definitely a surprise," said Walker, who has spent the past three years in Newcastle after moving down from Moree.
Walker's twin brother, Josh, plays on the first-grade wing for Moree and older brother Jayden, 23, plays in the centres.
"We all joke about me being the best," Walker said. "The boys are fine with that. We all used to play on the same team together from under-7s to under-12s and have always been very competitive with each other."
Not content with family bragging rights, Walker hopes to continue her rise.
"It was my first season with the Rebels and the standard was much higher than what I was used to playing club rugby in Newcastle," Walker said
"Obviously, I still have a lot to learn, but the next goal would be to make a Wallaroos training squad and see where it goes from there."
The Wallaroos were scheduled to play Tests against Canada, USA and New Zealand during the winter, with France and England to visit in November.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has put rugby on hold until at least June 1 and the Test calendar is expected to be impacted.
The Rebels assistant coach Peter Breen is also the Wallaroos backs coach and Walker had been doing extra sessions with him and Melbourne-based national team halfback Georgia Cormick.
"Peter is a very good coach and I have also learnt heaps from Georgie," Walker said.
Normally a halfback, Walker was deployed at inside centre and led the competition in steals with eight.
"Georgie is the Wallaroos No.9 so I wasn't going to get a look in there," Walker said. "I enjoyed the move. It was something new and I learned a lot of things. In sevens, I used to win a lot of ball. I thought I might as well give it a go in 15s. Playing a bit wider you get more one-on-one opportunities or you can wait for someone to make the tackle and then target the ball."
The Rebels beat Western Australia 31-26 and were competitive in losses to NSW (33-3) and ACT Brumbies (24-21). Walker (shoulder) was among a host of players out in the 103-0 thrashing to Queensland.
"When you come in team and don't know many people, it is about learning how they play and adapting to it," Walker said.
Walker was one of the four players with Newcastle connections at the Rebels. She and lock Brooke Saunders played together at Easts, No.8 Annika Jamieson was a part of the Waratahs premiership-winning side, while Carmen Landkauf spent many years at Wanderers before relocating to Melbourne in 2013. She broke her wrist in the pre-season and missed the Super W season proper.
"I basically moved down there because Annika was there," said Walker, who is back in Newcastle working. "I played with Melbourne Uni in the OAN sevens series and the Rebels invited me to train with the Super W squad."