Chev Walker has revealed how a prison officer helped inspire his rugby league redemption after a spell behind bars as a youngster.
The Leeds Rhinos assistant coach was sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders’ institute aged 20, for his part a street fight that also saw team-mates Ryan Bailey and Dwayne Barker and Rochdale full-back Paul Owen spend time inside.
Walker had already played for England in the 2000 World Cup as a teenager and in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley while on bail.
His career could have been torn apart by the incident, but Leeds stood by him, Bailey and Barker, and Walker featured in the triumphant 2004 Grand Final before later having spells at Bath RU, Hull KR and Bradford.
Now he has shared how one prison worker helped show him what he was missing during the seven and a half months he served behind bars.
In a podcast with Rhinos hooker Brad Dwyer, Walker explained: “At that moment in time it could have gone and been taken away from me.
“I had a decent prison warden that came in on a Friday night. Where my jail cell was I could see their unit, and he’d put the game on and push the tele so I could see it. He wasn’t a rugby league fan but I got on with him and chatted with him.
“I remember Leeds getting beat by Wigan at Headingley in 2003, and that was the day when I thought I’d let my team-mates down. I was sat there thinking ‘I’m never going to let them down again – I can’t do that.
“I started to up my training when I was inside, asking for permission to go outside and do extra running.”
Walker was also visited in prison by in-coming coach Tony Smith in another turning point in his life. Walker added: “I just clicked with him straight away.
"I thought if he’s going to go out of his way to come and see me and reassure me that I’m alright and need to keep working hard, what else could I do other than that? I just bought in straight away.
“I got released on December 15 and played on Boxing Day. That year was probably my best year as a player, we won it and that was the start of the dynasty of Leeds. I was so grateful that I was able to play again.
“When the final hooter went in the Grand Final I ran off into a corner and I couldn’t hold anything in or process anything, and Tony came and grabbed me. I just said to him ‘how different is this from 12 months ago?’”
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