Rugby League: Wembley awaits Walters clan: Dave Hadfield on the three brothers who are battling for a place in Australia's rugby league team for the World Cup final

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The Independent Online
Australian cricket has had its congregation of Chappells, but rugby league has never seen a family like the Walters, whose mutual support and rivalry will be a theme of the Kangaroos' preparation for the World Cup final against Great Britain on Saturday week.

Steve, Kerrod and Kevin Walters are the first set of three brothers to be selected simultaneously for their country. For the final at Wembley, at least one, and probably two of them, will face Great Britain, while the odd man out sits on the sidelines.

The principal competition will be between 27-year-old Steve, and Kerrod, one half of the twins two years Steve's junior. Both are specialists in what remains the most specialised of positions, that of hooker, and the pair have traded the Australian No 9 jersey between them over the last couple of seasons.

Kevin, meanwhile, could be regarded as the black sheep of the family, making his fame and fortune in the 'Fancy Dan' role of stand-off for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia.

'He has played hooker, though,' Steve points out. 'He packed down there in Papua New Guinea last year, so he can dive in there if necessary.'

Surprisingly, the head of the Walters clan, their dad Kevin, was not a player, let alone a hooker. The boys, including another brother, Andrew, who falls between them in age and is now player-coach of a team in Cairns, grew up within 50 yards of the local ground in Ipswich, 25 miles inland from Brisbane.

There must have been something in the water in Ipswich at the time, because the other local up- and-comer was Allan Langer, who plays alongside Kevin and Kerrod for Brisbane Broncos and will be Australia's scrum-half at Wembley.

From Ipswich, the career paths of the three brothers initially took different directions. Steve joined Norths in Brisbane and then migrated south to the Canberra Raiders, where he was joined by Kevin.

Kerrod enlisted with the Brisbane Broncos on their foundation in 1988, and was provided with family company when Kevin returned to Queensland and signed for the Broncos two years later.

The two formed the cutting edge of their coach Wayne Bennett's new wave of young players, displacing internationals like Greg Conescu and, in Kevin's case, the legendary Wally Lewis. This season, the twins were essential ingredients in Brisbane's first Premiership triumph, emulating Steve's achievement with Canberra in 1989 and 1990.

Steve, despite being Australia's incumbent hooker and getting first crack at the position in the first warm-up match of the tour at Huddersfield, believes that Brisbane's success has cost him the inside track.

'Kerrod has been in the public eye during the play-offs and that gives him the advantage,' he says. 'All I can do is play as well as I can when I get the chance.'

Kerrod reads the runes the other way round. 'Steve is the current Australian hooker, and it's only right that the players who won the series against Great Britain this year start with the inside running.

'But whichever of us is on the field at Wembley, the other will be leading the cheering from the sidelines.'

The choice between them is bound to be difficult; Kerrod could be a shade more combative and robust, Steve a fraction more creative, but there is precious little in it.

Kevin's prospects are also intriguing. Most of his Test rugby so far has been played as a substitute, where his ability to fill in at a pinch anywhere in the backs or even in the back row of the pack makes him such an asset.

Now, however, the absence of the injured Laurie Daley gives him an excellent chance of playing at stand-off, keeping intact his highly effective Premiership-winning half- back partnership with Langer.

Whatever happens, Kevin Snr and the boys' mother, Sandra, are certain of having at least one son to support at Wembley on their first visit to England. If both Kevin and Kerrod play, their parents will be two of the few people in a 78,000 full house who can distinguish between the two with certainty.

Kerrod's longer hair used to be the giveaway, but both he and Kevin had their heads shaved as part of the Broncos' post-Grand Final ritual, and both now look like extras from the set of Papillon.

'I've got a bad enough looking head without one of those haircuts,' Steve said. 'I've always been a role model for those two,' he laughs. 'I must have gone wrong somewhere along the line.'

(Photograph omitted)

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