8th September 2017, 12:00
MEET THE TEAM: Ant Walker
The latest player to feature in our series ahead of Rugby League World Cup 2017 is Rochdale Hornets' Ant Walker.
Brought up in the north-west of England, Walker began playing rugby league at the age of six and turned out for both Blackbrook and Golborne at junior level.
Although he started out early, he did take a break from the sport for a couple of years to focus on his swimming.
However, he was back involved with rugby league at 13 and, three years later, he was snapped up by Super League club St Helens.
Ant in action against Serbia
After featuring for Saints' academy sides, Walker was offered a full-time contract with the club in 2012.
In February 2013, he was given his break in Super League when he featured in Saints' clash with Bradford Bulls at Odsal.
That year, he ended up making nine appearances in all in the league, crossing for a single try in the process.
He also spent shortly over a month on loan at then Championship club Whitehaven.
Following the conclusion of his club campaign, Walker was given his first Wales call-up ahead of Rugby League World Cup 2013.
He featured in all three of Wales' group matches and grabbed a try in defeat against the USA in Wrexham.
Although he starred for Saints in 2014 - eight times in total - the majority of his season was spent in the Championship with Rochdale Hornets, the club's dual-registration partner at the time.
As well as his dual-registration appearances, the 25-year-old played one match for Whitehaven in his second loan spell with the Cumbrian club.
After featuring for Rochdale on dual-registration in the early stages of 2015, Walker made a permanent move midway through the campaign as he linked up with Wakefield Trinity.
In the closing stages of the season, he made eight appearances for Wakefield, leading to his second Wales call-up in the autumn.
Ant with Phil Joseph, Craig Kopczak and the European Championship trophy
And he played a key role in Wales' European Championship success, playing in all three matches and scoring a crucial try in the win over Scotland at the Racecourse Stadium.
Last season, Walker made four appearances for Trinity in Super League and had a third loan spell in his career with Whitehaven, who he played 13 times for in 2016.
He was again selected to represent Wales in the autumn and featured in the two World Cup Qualifiers, as well as the full international with Jamaica.
In the Dragons' crucial final Qualifier in Italy, Walker came up with a vital try shortly before the half-time break.
After a handful of appearances for Wakefield at the start of the current campaign, he moved to Championship club Rochdale on a permanent deal.
Since joining the Hornets, he has been playing big minutes and helped the club to all but secure their place in the division for 2018.
On the move to Rochdale, Walker said: "It's been different, but I'm enjoying my rugby a lot more.
"I'm working and am no longer playing full-time, but I'm closer to home and I'm with family and the kids more often.
"I think the lifestyle at the minute is a lot better for me."
Although Walker was born in England and qualifies to play for Wales through his grandfather, his aim was always to play for the Dragons.
Ant with family
"When I first started playing, it was something that I had planned on doing," he said.
"Playing for Wales is the highlight of my season every year.
"I made my debut in the World Cup and I've played pretty much every season since.
"In the Wales camp, everybody is mates and I think that gets the best out of the lads.
"It really is fantastic and it would be great to be involved in the World Cup.
"The World Cup itself is going to be massive; they live and breathe rugby league out there.
"If I'm involved, it would definitely be one of the highest points in my career."
Along with playing, Walker is also the head coach at Blackbrook, who he played for as a junior.
And, having recently surpassed 100 career appearances, he is becoming more experienced by the year.
Playing in a Rochdale side that has been battling it out for a place in the Championship of late, he has been involved in some crucial matches and will be hoping for a strong end to the season to book his place on the plane to Australia.
Name: Ant Walker
Ant with his kids after the win over Scotland in 2015
Current club: Rochdale Hornets
Junior clubs: Blackbrook Royals and Golborne
Eligibility: Born in Warrington, England. Eligible through his grandfather
Date of birth: 28/12/91
Wales heritage: #489; Wales caps: 8; Wales tries: 3; first Wales appearance: 03/11/13; last Wales appearance: 29/10/16
SEE ANT'S FULL WALES RECORD HERE
YOU CAN FOLLOW ANT ON TWITTER: @Ant_Walker
YOU CAN ALSO FOLLOW ANT ON INSTAGRAM: @ant_walker
Get behind the lads at the World Cup by purchasing the new replica shirt! Visit the online shop HERE.
Article by Ryan Gould
Images from Ant Walker and ianlovell.com
Wales' group matches at Rugby League World Cup 2017 are as follows:
PAPUA NEW GUINEA V WALES
Sir John Guise Stadium, Port Moresby
FIJI V WALES
WALES V IRELAND
Perth Rectangular Stadium
Tickets for Wales' opener against Papua New Guinea are now on sale! They can be purchased HERE.