Dave Craven: Walmsley handed early opportunity to impress with Saints

As the dual-registration debate rages on, deflecting so much from what should be a ‘good news’ time for the Championship, let’s pause to have a little look at one of the competition’s undoubted success stories.

Barely 10 months ago, Alex Walmsley was representing Leeds Metropolitan University in the student game’s national cup final against Loughborough.

It was staged at Headingley Carnegie but instead of the usual 15,000 plus crowd that normally congregates there for Leeds Rhinos fixtures there was a more sparsely spread smattering of spectators across the famous terraces.

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Most of them, though, will have already been well-versed with the escapades of the bullocking prop Walmsley who tonight completes a truly remarkable ascension by making his Super League debut for St Helens against Hull FC.

It is a fascinating tale, of this towering old-school front-row who, at six foot five inches, can blast holes in defences but just as comfortably open them up with delicate passing so reminiscent of Lee Crooks in his pomp.

Walmsley was plucked from amateurs Dewsbury Celtic and handed a chance at Batley Bulldogs last season where his impact was simply devastating.

Coach John Kear knew he was raw but boasting real talent and once he got his first taste it quickly became clear that the impressive forward would be good enough to more than hold his own in the Championship.

The experienced boss wanted to ease him to the higher level of football but soon realised Walmsley was a supremely potent weapon.

He brought his giant forward off the bench where he would surge into action and cause chaos in opposition ranks.

Such was Walmsley’s alacrity that he revelled under such circumstances and grew in confidence from the off to the extent that he emerged as an obvious winner of the Championship’s Young Player of the Year.

By that point in September, such was the rate of his progression, impressed Saints had already won the race to his coveted signature and tied him to a three-year deal.

Just like Kear before, Nathan Brown intended to gradually usher him into the fold but, in only the third round, an injury to Australian prop Josh Perry means Walmsley will now get his chance.

Those who know him, worked with him and played alongside him fully expect the grounded 22-year-old to grasp the opportunity with the same amount of relish as he did when handed that first shot at Batley; they feel Super League will not daunt him in the slightest.

Clearly, the proof will be in the weeks and months ahead as he looks to establish himself among the elite.

As baptisms go, it will be a fiery one considering he is up against grizzled Australian Test prop Mark ‘Ogre’ O’Meley and one of the finest props in Super League history Andy Lynch.

That is no gentle easing into the world of the big-hitters for Walmsley who has, ironically, been back at Batley over the last two weekends on dual-registration terms.

Talking to the Yorkshire Post yesterday after completing the final team run at Saints, he admitted: “I do still have to pinch myself sometimes.

“I think it will really dawn on me though come Friday if I do get to play... realising where I’ve come from to this.

“It’s been a great year for me but now it’s time for me to show what I can do.

“It’s a good first game; Hull will really test me.”

Of course, some will say there’s little chance for another Walmsley to ever emerge in the future if clubs become reliant on Super League players through the controversial dual-registration.

That may or may not be true but, regardless, it underlines the need for some serious discussions between all parties involved to find some clarity once and for all.

In the meantime, let’s just wish Walmsley all the best on this, his latest potentially riveting chapter.