ALEX WALMSLEY admits it is “surreal” knowing he will play in the World Cup final with England – after thinking he was destined to never even pull on the shirt.
The Dewsbury-born prop is on the bench against Australia in Saturday’s Brisbane showpiece, completing a remarkable odyssey having still been appearing for Leeds Metropolitan University as recently as 2012.
However, Walmsley, 27, also only made his belated Test bow against Lebanon earlier in this tournament having missed the opener and planned debut versus the Kangaroos due to illness.
Before that, in May, he flew to Sydney on a round trip of 20,000 miles only to not be selected against Samoa and, in 2015, when the hulking Yorkshireman was shortlisted for Man of Steel, injury curtailed England hopes.
“It was awful missing out on that first match,” he said.
“It felt like I’d got close so many times to play for England and it was ‘Here we go again, I’m not going to play and I’m just destined not to.’
This is the pinnacle of the sport and I want to test myself against the very best. It’s fitting that it is Australia and I can’t wait for it. It’s an absolutely unbelievable feeling.Alex Walmsley
“But it’s worked out well in the end. We always said we wanted to be playing them again in six weeks’ time and here we are.
“It’s coming to the last game of the tournament and we’re playing the best team in the world.
“This is the pinnacle of the sport and I want to test myself against the very best.
“It’s fitting that it is Australia and I can’t wait for it. It’s an absolutely unbelievable feeling.
“It’s still not quite sunk in yet given the way that semi-final against Tonga finished. It is a surreal feeling. But it’s a very proud moment and the pinnacle of my career so far.”
St Helens star Walmsley, who started his professional career with Batley Bulldogs, has really made an impression with underdogs England who hope to lift a first world title.
“To just be in the 24-man squad was unbelievable,” he recalled.
“At the start of the World Cup, my only aim was to play a game or two. I never knew if I’d be in the 17 or not and to make my international debut and represent my country was the ultimate goal at the start of the tournament.
“So, to play five games and only miss one due to illness is unbelievable. To be finishing the tournament in Brisbane at the Suncorp Stadium in a World Cup final against Australia, it doesn’t get any better.
“It’s something I’m really looking forward to now. We can’t be anything less than 100 per cent as anything less than that won’t be good enough but we know we can do this.”