Alex Walmsley will go down as one of the greatest players in Super League history and is certainly up there when it comes to discussing the finest props in the competition.
A pillar of St Helens’ dynasty, the Saints showed though that they can be successful without the veteran forward last year when his partner in crime Matty Lees proved key in guiding the Saints to a fourth consecutive Grand Final win without Walmsley.
This came after he picked up an injury which also ended his World Cup hopes though speaking to the Sportsman, the former Batley Bulldogs prop found the positive side of things: “I suppose the one positive of finishing the season to injury is that you get a good rest to let the other parts of the body recover. Obviously I was gutted to miss out on the business end of the season and the World Cup off the back of that but it’s allowed me to recover, rest and have some time that it doesn’t normally get. Off the back of that I feel good, strong and healthy. I’ve put a bit of size on, most of it intentional, and I feel good for it and I’m raring to go. It takes a bit of a setback and disappointment to get that bit between the teeth again.”
A fresh start in 2023 for Walmsley then after injury, it is a new start for the club with Kristian Woolf moving on after the 2022 Grand Final success with club legend Paul Wellens taking over.
Walmsley had his say: “Kristian was amazing these last few seasons and he came at a time when we was getting to the top of our successes with Justin leaving and Kristian coming in, he was unbelievable but Wello has been a part of that for the last four or five years as a coach and prior to that as a player. I was lucky enough to play alongside him in my first few seasons and knowing him as a coach and player he’s no different. He’s very knowledgeable as you’d expect but he’s also uncompromising and expects high standards. I’m really happy for Wello, he was definitely the right man to come on board.”
One big thing for Wellens to deal with is potential complacency. Wellens even said that this was the biggest threat to the Saints in 2023.
Here’s what Walmsley had to say on the matter: “When you’ve got a culture at the club, which we have as a group of players but also the rest of the squad, the staff, everyone down to the kitman. We’ve set our levels and our stall out as the minimum level that we need to be. We know what it takes and once you’ve created that it’s actually hard to kind of fall away from that.”
“In a salary cap sport to win two or three in a row is obviously a massive effort but to what we’ve done over these last few seasons with four, you’ve got to have the right people on board and we want to keep driving those standards. Once you’ve created a basis of what’s expected, no matter who comes in or what change, this is what it is to be a Saints player and anything less isn’t acceptable.”
“I think we’ve got a winning culture, we’re desperate to keep winning. It’s going to get harder next season, teams have strengthened and we’ve had a little bit of change but ultimately drive is still the same as it was four years ago.”
The Saints of course have the small matter of the World Club Challenge in February: “We’re really excited, it was 2020 when we played Sydney and I think prior to that we’d had a couple of cracks. 2015 when we played Souths and Sydney again a few years prior to that, I think those first two games we didn’t do ourselves justice as a team. That’s been the one downside of these last few seasons. Not being able to have another go at that World Club Challenge.
“It’s clear the NRL is the superior league, it’s got the finances, it’s got the playing pool there that we don’t necessarily have and only now and again do we get the opportunity to show what we’ve got as a league. It’s an opportunity we’re looking forward to, a few weeks out in Australia it’ll be a bit warmer and we’ll have a good camp and lots of team bonding and hopefully then a good performance against what is an exceptional Penrith side.”
That is one of four trophies St Helens could win in 2o23 and Walmsley says they will be going for all four: “We go into every season wanting to win everything we can, we’ve got a good side again and kept hold of some key players. All the young boys are a year older, a bit more wiser so we’re going in confident in terms of who we are as a team and what we’ve got in our squad. It’s going to get harder and harder to keep retaining the title but we’re going into it with the aim of silverware. You don’t play for St Helens without those aims and ambitions. It’s no different this year, we’ll be going for every single trophy.”