Not playing actually made me a better player, admits Walmsley

Alex Walmsley.
Alex Walmsley.
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Alex Walmsley is itching to make his international debut after having his appetite whetted by England’s friendly win in Perth.

The St Helens front rower made a big impact from the bench as Wayne Bennett’s men warmed up for next Friday’s World Cup opener against Australia with a 74-12 rout of the part-time players of the Combined Affiliated States.

Wayne Bennett

Wayne Bennett

Walmsley has been invigorated by England’s training camp in Western Australia but says his hunger was actually sparked by his non-playing involvement in the mid-season Test against Samoa.

He made the 12,000-mile trip to Sydney but was one of three players not used in the match that England won 30-10.

“Being a part of the 20-man squad in May put me in good stead,” Walmsley said. “It was tough not playing but I think I’m better for it, as a player and as a person.

“It re-ignited the hunger. I’ve always been really ambitious and representing my country has always been one of my aims, I came close in May and hopefully this time I get the opportunity.”

Alex Walmsley.

Alex Walmsley.

Walmsley has been on the fringes of the England picture ever since bursting onto the Super League scene so impressively for St Helens in 2013.

He was a member of Saints’ Grand Final-winning team in 2014 and 12 months later was named in the Super League Dream Team and on the three-man short-list for Man of Steel.

But he missed out on the end-of-season internationals that year due to injury and fell down the pecking order by the time the Four Nations Series came around in 2016.

“I put my international aims on the back burner a little bit but thankfully I’ve been given an opportunity and hopefully I’ll get to pull on that jersey this time around,” he said.

It has been an eventful last two months for Walmsley, who played a big role in St Helens’ push for the Grand Final and became a father for the first time.

The former Batley prop famously came off 10 minutes from the end of Saints’ game at Wakefield on September 7 in order to make a dash to hospital after his partner went into labour, arriving just too late to witness the birth of son Atticus, named after the fictitious lawyer Atticus Finch in the book To Kill a Mocking Bird.

“I did the book at school and it’s been one of my favourite ones since,” Walmsley explained. “We had a girl’s name sorted but we were struggling for a boy’s name. I read the book again over the summer and I proposed it to Simone and she was happy with it.

“It’s been a fantastic six weeks since the birth, such a whirlwind of emotions from that night and, off the back of it, part of the challenge of representing my country.

“I’m very fortunate that I’ve got a very supportive partner who is going to come out to Australia with the little one.”

Australia captain Cameron Smith has stressed the importance of starting the World Cup with an opening win over England.

England coach Bennett has hinted that he would settle for a narrow defeat in Melbourne on Friday, knowing that victory in the other group games against Lebanon and France would guarantee his side a place in the quarter-finals and confident in the belief that they will improve as the tournament reaches it climax.

However, the victors on Friday could guarantee themselves an easier route to the final, avoiding a potential trip to Auckland to take on New Zealand in the semi-finals, just as the Kangaroos did on their way to winning the 2013 World Cup in the UK.

“That game in Cardiff was a real tricky prospect for us,” Smith said at the tournament launch in Brisbane. “We didn’t start all that well but we fought back and got a narrow win, which set us up for what became a great World Cup for us.

“I think Friday night is going to be much the same. A lot of the focus and a lot of the talk from Mal (Meninga) and from myself is going to be about playing a good game of footy on Friday night because, if you get beaten in that first game, you put yourself into a tricky position heading into quarter finals and semi-finals.”