NRL Grand Final news: Reece Walsh Brisbane Broncos found wanting under harsh microscope Penrith Panthers Nathan Cleary

Reece Walsh is a lightning rod when it comes to attracting attention.

Some of it naturally falls his way through his explosive athleticism and flashy plays on the field, while he is also guilty of deliberately drawing plenty more in his own direction.

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It only takes one look at the shades Walsh was rocking in the changeroom pre-game to see he doesn’t shy away from the spotlight.

It’s also evident in the hottest of hot pink footy boots he chooses to wear, completing the look with a pair of shorts beneath his Broncos maroon of the exact same unmissable pink.

He also has a fiery temperament, resulting in a series of trips to the NRL judiciary, while Walsh couldn’t resist snapping back at a Panthers supporter on a pre-Grand Final Fan Day.

Telling a teenager he will “take your mum’s (head off)” isn’t exactly the type of public commentary the NRL would be seeking from one of its hottest commodities.

But all that attention means, under the white-hot microscope of professional sport, that above all else you need to walk the walk.

And that’s where Walsh fell short in his debut NRL Grand Final.

Coming into the game as just about the main attraction, Walsh did have the odd flash of brilliance, but he was comfortably outpointed by Nathan Cleary and Stephen Crichton, as well as opposing fullback Dylan Edwards.

Yes, we hear you, they are all veterans and proven Grand Final performers.

But even Ezra Mam, who at just 20 years old is six months younger than Walsh, blanketed his teammate with his hat-trick of tries.

Walsh filmed arguing with fan

If you talk the talk with the sunglasses and the flash boots, you need to step up in the biggest of games.

Yes, he set-up Mam for one of his tries and had another brilliant run in the second half as the Broncos searched in vain for a fifth try that would have buried the game before Cleary marched the Panthers all the way back.

But he also had a series of errors and plenty of poor defensive positioning, as was regularly pointed out by perhaps the best fullback of them all, Billy Slater.

Fair or otherwise, just about everything Walsh did was critiqued throughout the game.

“The Broncos need to find a way to get their star fullback into the game,” Slater said during the tight first half at Accor Stadium.

“Reece has only had two runs in the first 27 minutes.

“He’s got to start getting dirty Reece and doing a bit more work in the middle of the field.”

Just moments later when he tried to run the ball out from his own goal-line, Slater jumped in with: “He went too sideways. Reece has got to go north-south. You can’t go sideways, especially in this field position.”

With the Panthers on top in the first half, leading 8-0, Slater implored the Broncos to help potential game-breaker Walsh get them into the game.

He also couldn’t help pointing out Walsh’s choice of footwear, not for the last time on this particular evening either.

“This is where they can structure something up, look for play three or four on this set, shiny pink boots, try to get him some space,” Slater said.

Thomas Flegler would eventually force his way over the line in the dying seconds for an 8-6 halftime deficit for Brisbane.

The hits kept coming for Walsh after the restart.

“A kick by Reece Walsh, who is yet to impose himself on the game,” commentator Mat Thompson said during the call.

“Oh that’s too long, it’s way too long. And that was an easy let-off for the Panthers to resume this second half with a seven tackle set.”

“You can’t get them wrong in big games,” Andrew Johns added. “He’ll be disappointed with that one Reece.”

Even when Cleary misjudged a kick early in the second half, he was excused due to the Accor Stadium surface, at least by Slater.

Walsh wasn’t afforded any such relief.

“Oh, they get away with one there the Broncos,” Slater observes.

“Reece Walsh, he planted himself on the short side in the defensive line, Nathan saw space, he just couldn’t quite weight the kick.

“This ground’s really firm here at Accor Stadium. It just ran on.”

Then, of course, the Broncos absolutely erupted into life, with an exhilarating 10-minute passage of play that broke the game wide open.

That man Mam was the architect, using his own strength and pace to score the first two tries of the second half.

Walsh then produced an enormous left-foot step before beating two tackles and finding Mam with a perfectly time inside ball for try No. 3.

Suddenly, the pink boots were an asset.

“Wow! Wow! It was only a matter of time before we saw those bright pink boots go wooshka,” Slater screams.

Cleary, of course, then orchestrated the biggest Grand Final comeback of all time, Penrith producing 18 straight points to secure a 26-24 win and a third consecutive premiership.

Walsh was found flat-footed in defence as Cleary worked the huge defensive gap to score the decisive try, with Walsh only getting a desperate hand onto the Penrith skipper’s shoulder when it was far too late.

Brisbane did get the ball back in the dying stages, with Thompson acknowledging Walsh’s ability when he declared: “There’ll be a minute left. Can Reece Walsh manufacture a miracle?”

Yet when his attempted inside ball with 30 seconds left on his only touch of the set landed in the hands of Penrith second-rower Scott Sorensen, Thompson dropped another hammer.

“Walsh played all of his cards at once and it’s come unstuck,” he said as the Panthers ran out the clock.

In the wash-up, on both TV shows breaking down the game and on X, where tall poppies are routinely torn down to barely a nub, the Walsh bashing was brutal.

“He was unbelievable,” former Bronco Corey Parker said on Fox League in his assessment of Edwards after the game.

“We talk about Nathan Cleary for what he did and rightly so, but for Edwards, 25 hit-ups, close to 300 run metres from the No.1.

“We spoke about Reece Walsh and understanding the enormity of the game that he was in and to be fair he was pretty quiet in the first half.

“He had some moments in that second half where he really opened up and you thought Reece is really going to loosen the game up.

“He set up a beautiful try for Ezra Mam and he came up with a linebreak down the right.

“But he would be sitting there going ‘could I have done something a little bit more?’”

Michael Ennis agreed that Walsh will have trouble shaking off his first effort in an NRL decider.

“I thought he had some brilliant touches in the second half and really ignited them when they got going and he was a big part of why they did get going,” he said.

“But I think there will be some moments particularly defensively.

“He has had a hell of a year Reece and he is such a superstar but you are right, had they been able to hold on, you don’t dwell on those moments.

“The adulation of winning a grand final just erases all the mistakes that you made, but when you lose, it just seeps into your soul.”

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