Widnes Vikings endured a torrid 2017; finishing bottom of the Super League with just five wins from 23 games, they were ranked favourites to be relegated from the top flight. Yet, the club pulled through a horrendous injury list to secure their Super League status in relatively straightforward fashion. An injury list that - at one stage - amounted to 12 first-team players out, would have upset any team, but the Vikings ploughed through thanks to the help of a number of young stars that would not have got their opportunity had the Vikings' injuries not been so bad.

The likes of Jordan Johnstone, Ryan Ince, Ed Chamberlain and Ted and Jay Chapelhow demonstrated that they were up to the task of filling in for the sidelined stars, but one name stood out in particular and also stands out to take 2018 by storm. And, if Widnes are to defy the pundits, this young man is likely to play a key role.

Danny Walker

Danny Walker joined the Widnes Vikings as a 14-year-old, having played his community Rugby League with Rylands Sharks and Crosfields ARLFC. The small, wily hooker has represented England at Youth and Academy level and the Vikings at every level of their youth pathway. At just 17 years of age when the 2017 season kicked off, Walker would not have expected to have been in head coach Denis Betts' thoughts.

Yet, with a severe injury to first-choice hooker Aaron Heremaia, Walker was given his opportunity in the away clash at Leigh on April 1.

Widnes supporters would have forgiven the teenager for being overawed with the occasion, but, Walker grabbed his spot in the 17 by the scruff of the neck. A talented youngster with an effective passing game and a toughness and durability that belies his teenage years, Walker went on to register 12 appearances for the Vikings - all off the substitutes' bench.

His impact, however, was clear; in the 12 appearances he made in a Widnes shirt, the Cheshire club won seven games. This is a remarkable statistic considering that Widnes ended the regular season and the playoffs with just ten wins.

At just 78kg and 170cm, Walker is not exactly the most robust hooker in the Super League. Yet, the diminutive figure is physical and aggressive - two characteristics that a hooker needs if they are going to make the No.9 spot their own.

In the Vikings' away defeat to Warrington in the televised Challenge Cup game in May 2017, Walker burst onto the scene with an electric break down the middle of the field which led to a Patrick Ah Van try. But, more impressively, when an altercation kicked off between himself and the considerably bigger England prop Chris Hill, Walker refused to back down and stood his ground, despite the significant size difference between the two men.

Since that moment, Walker's stock has grown substantially. A possible future England star, the young hooker signed a four-year deal midway through the 2017 season with the Vikings. Thus, with a settled future for the next few seasons, Walker can truly kick on; Aaron Heremaia - Widnes' first choice No.9 - should be looking warily over his shoulder in 2018 as Walker is likely to go from strength to strength and force his way into the reckoning whether or not injuries occur once more.

Read the series by following these links

Part one

Part two

Part three

Part four

Part five

Part six

Part seven

Part eight

Part nine

Part ten