After a decade playing rugby league at the highest level, Chris Walker never expected to be digging ditches.
ot that he is residing on Struggle Street. The newly-crowned Former Origin Great, who recently announced his NRL retirement after cutting short his stint at the Parramatta Eels, has returned to Queensland to oversee his burgeoning construction business, Walker Brothers Earthworks.
And Walker is literally at the coalface. If he isn’t reaching for the shovel, he can be found shifting dirt behind the wheel of a bobcat.
But the 31-year-old father of three is just as eager to get his hands dirty for the FOGS organisation, putting back into the Queensland footballing nursery he emerged from as a flying winger with the Broncos 11 years ago.
“Obviously being a past player, I have that connection with FOGS and I’m looking forward to doing something with them now that I’ll have more time,” says Walker, who has a daughter Harper, 3, and 10-month old twins Chase and Narla.
“Rugby league has given me a lot, it’s given me some great memories and friendships, so I want to put something back into the game.
“I’ve only just started up my business so I’m looking to find some work until the business rears its head to the point where I can focus on that full-time.”
Walker shares a special place in Queensland’s Origin tapestry. Ten years ago, he was one of seven rookies handed an Origin debut by master coach Wayne Bennett as the Maroons produced a stunning boilover of the Blues in the opening game of the 2001 series.
Walker scored a try in the 34-16 thumping and says he will always treasure his six matches in the Maroon jumper.
“I’m really happy with my career,” he said.
“It would have been nice to play for Australia but I don’t want to lessen my achievements, it was always an ambition of mine to play Origin and I got to do that.
“I’ve made some great connections, some people go their whole lives without making those friendships so I’m very lucky where I am with my life.”
Four years after a life-shaping battle with alcoholism and depression, Walker says he cannot be more content. He had planned to see out the season with the Eels, but when partner Courtney returned north recently to visit family with their three kids, Walker knew it was time to go.
“I had to get the family back,” Walker said.
“Mentally I wanted to go on, I wanted to play more games of first grade, but looking at my wife and kids, I realised that playing football is not everything. I have a family now and it’s their time now.”
Walker lit up the code, for reasons good and bad, on and off the field.
He played 151 NRL games, scoring 81 tries at six clubs: the Broncos, Souths, Roosters, Melbourne, the Titans and the Eels. The backline flyer was talented enough to play six Origin games in 2001-02, but Walker navigated some dark times.
When he walked out the Rabbitohs after one season in 2003, he received death threats. And there was the deep personal struggle in 2007, when Walker spent time in rehabilitation on the Gold Coast as he began to lose the battle with the demon drink.
Today, Walker has rebuilt his soul; a devoted family man at ease.
“It feels pretty strange actually, it’s a weird feeling to think it’s all over,” he said. “I spoke to the right people 10-12 weeks ago when I made the decision to retire. I’ve had it in the back of my mind for a while, but when you don’t have to go to training, and you don’t feel sore on Monday morning, you know you’re not playing anymore, it leaves you a bit empty.
“I’ve definitely got no regrets, I got to play 11 years of first grade football, I played two years of Origin football and there is nothing I’d change.”