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Foggy memories: I wear ‘Walker’s on’ as a badge of honour

Walker’s on.

They are two words etched in State of Origin folklore and Chris Walker still can’t leave the house 18 years after they were first uttered without hearing them.

He can be ordering a burger, crossing the road, getting out of his car or sitting on a park bench minding his own business… and someone will pipe up with a "Walker's on".

In 2001 Walker had scored four tries in three Origin games for the Maroons and started the 2002 season for Brisbane on fire.

In 2001. Photo: NRL Images
In 2001. Photo: NRL Images

He was scoring tries at will and New South Wales coach Phil Gould had identified him as the danger man.

Named on the bench for Game I in Sydney, when Walker came on, NSW trainer Nathan Brown went into overdrive.

Brown repeatedly told the Blues boys, via Brett Hodgson, to take note that "Walker’s on".

The punchline came moments later when then NSW assistant coach Laurie Daley told Brown to "let them know that Walker's on the field". Brown replied: "Yeah, I did already."

"To this day if I leave home and go into a public place I get 'Walker’s on' said to me every day. That is a pretty cool thing and I have young kids now who know the history behind it and have a chuckle," Walker grinned as he reflected on the magic moment.

"I look back at it as a string in my bow and a wrap on the way I played football.

"In 2002 I’d come off a fairly convincing campaign the year before and Gus Gould had watched me play and knew I was a threat to the NSW team. It is pretty flattering to be honest. I wear ‘Walker’s on’ as a badge of honour."

Walker grew up in Toowoomba without a TV set in the house for 12 years and recalled listening to the Origin games on radio or going around to mates' houses to watch them on TV.

He and his three brothers Ben, Shane and Luke would re-enact magic Maroons moments and pretend to be Wally Lewis and Allan Langer.

"We had acreage and we'd play outside until mum and dad would come out with a belt and try and flog us to get us to come back in. They are the best memories for me," Walker recalled.

To this day Walker credits his brother Shane for playing a key role in his initial Maroons selection in 2001.

Walker’s mentor and sounding board Wayne Bennett came back to coach the Maroons in 2001 after Queensland’s humiliating 3-nil series loss to NSW.

"We had some pride to restore in the Maroons jersey and I wanted to become part of Origin folklore and play in that arena," Walker said.

"In 2001 my older brother Shane had told me that if I wanted to take the next step I should stop partying and do some extra training with him in the off-season. We trained with the AIS triathletes, a couple of whom went on to become world champions.

"Wayne told Shane I was going to be picked before the team was announced, and it was a proud moment when I got the phone call and he was sitting right next to me. The hard work had paid off."

Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images
Donning maroon. Photo: NRL Images

Walker’s first Origin game was the last ever played at the old Lang Park before it was knocked down and rebuilt. He was one of 10 debutants for the Maroons and recalls like it was yesterday the length of the field try Darren Lockyer scored after an interchange of passes with Lote Tuqiri.

"I scored a try myself and I’ll never forget Carl Webb’s try when he shrugged off three or four to score," Walker said. 

"I’d played a few games at Lang Park as a kid and my dad [Garry] played the 1980 BRL grand final there.

"I will forever remember going out there as a fresh faced 21-year-old while the anthem was played in front of the passionate Queensland fans. They all welcomed a new group of young guys like John Doyle and John Buttigieg who became seven foot tall and bullet proof."

The Maroons won 36-14 but were well beaten 26-4 in Sydney in game two before Bennett pulled his masterstroke and brought Allan Langer back from England for the decider at Brisbane’s QEII Stadium.

"Alf was someone all us young kids looked up to and when he walked into camp we all breathed a collective sigh of relief,” Walker said.

"We all saw him as the ultimate legend who could give us the spark we needed.

"Alf scored that try over the back of his head and I just wanted to reach out in touch him so some of his magic would rub off."

Celebrating. Photo: NRL Images
Celebrating. Photo: NRL Images

Walker played his last Origin game in the 2002 decider when Dane Carlaw scored late to secure an 18-18 draw and level the series.

He’d been replaced by Brent Tate at the end of the match and was watching from the sideline when Carlaw streaked away down the sideline.

Walker never played for Queensland again and has spent every Origin game since watching from the sidelines after a night out in Brisbane in 2004 he regrets to this day.

The former Maroons flyer was without doubt one of the most colourful players to lace a boot.

Off the field there were times where he lived as fast, foot loose and fancy free as his legs used to motor on the field.

His 2003 season was injury ravaged but by 2004 he was at the Roosters, back in form and set to play for the Maroons again in game one.

A pre-Origin bonding camp in Brisbane was called and Walker was on...on the turps.

"We went to the casino and had a curfew of 1am. I broke that curfew with a couple of other players, who I will never mention, and was heckled by a couple of people as I got in a cab," Walker recalled.

"I should have got straight in but I tried to take on three of them and it just happened there was a paddy wagon nearby and I was the lucky recipient of four or five canisters of capsicum spray.

"I went back into Origin camp after leaving the watch house on bail. Management sat down with me and asked who I was out with. I said I was the only one and they said if I didn’t tell them the names I’d never play Origin again, and I never did. I'll take that secret to the grave with me."

It is an incident Walker still reflects on, but one he can’t change.

"I let my family down that night and I let myself, my teammates and the Queensland people down," Walker said.

"That debacle still doesn’t sit well with me. For 16 years I have had to live with it.

"My rugby league career was chequered with off-field incidents. Some people would say I am not good on the drink and others would say I am really, really not good on the drink…and I would agree with all of them.

"It was my Achilles heel. I enjoyed football and I enjoyed partying just as much.

"I look back in my career and there are a couple of things off the field that I would change but I love the memories and the mates that I made in rugby league. I have no regrets."

Walker came out of retirement to play with the Ipswich Jets in 2015 and finished his career with an NRL State Championship win over Newcastle in a side coached by his brothers Ben and Shane.

Post-football he ran a successful earth-moving business but after a downturn in the economic environment got "stung" and was owed a substantial amount of money.

"I am no longer doing the earth-moving side of things so after that I moved into a bit of commentary with ABC Grandstand, Triple M and Channel Nine on the Intrust Super Cup,” Walker said.

"The last three or four years it has been very enjoyable doing that and being involved in rugby league, a sport that has always been a part of my life."

A couple of years ago Walker found a key ring with 'FOG 122' etched on it, which he was given when he made his Maroons debut. It had been tucked away in a box of memorabilia for years. On catching sight of it for the first time in years, tears came welling up in his eyes.

"I love being able to tell my kids that I was number 122 player for Queensland," Walker said.

"It is something that I am very proud of."