DEWSBURY star Alex Walmsley is set to play on the biggest stage of all having been named in England’s 17-man squad for Saturday’s World Cup Final against Australia in Brisbane.
Little over five years ago, Walmsley was playing for the Leeds Met University side but has made a rapid rise to fame, via Batley Bulldogs, to St Helens and now on the brink of World Cup glory.
The 27-year-old played in two of England’s three group games, having missed the opener against Australia through illness, and featured in the quarter-final win over Papua New Guinea and last Saturday’s thrilling semi-final success over Tonga.
A delighted Walmsley said: “It’s an absolutely unbelievable feeling. It’s still not quite sunk in yet given the way that game against Tonga finished. It is a surreal feeling.
“It’s a very proud moment and the pinnacle of my career so far.
“To be in the 24-man squad was unbelievable. 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 have played 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.”
Having missed the 18-4 group defeat to Australia at the start of the tournament, Walmsley is relishing the prospect of locking horns with the tournament favourites for the first time.
He added: “It was awful missing out on that match. 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.’
“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.
“They’ve been the world’s best for a long time now but 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.
“We can’t be anything less than 100 per cent. Anything less than that won’t be good enough. It will be very tough against the favourites.
“They are number one for a reason. We have to complete high. Our completion hasn’t been good enough yet and it has to be spot on for 80 minutes on Saturday so that we can give a performance of high quality to really test them.
“We have to kick well, chase well and work on all those one per centres that people talk about. We know we can do this.”
Walmsley is one of three Dewsbury lads set to be involved in Saturday’s final with brothers Sam and Tom Burgess also in the squad.
Walmsley added: “It’ll nice to have a day to make the town proud. I’ve roomed with Sam and Tom on this tour and we’ve spoken about Dewsbury and the different names back there.
“We’re all very proud about where we come from and it’s great to put the town on the map so to speak.
“I’m sure there’ll be plenty down at Dewsbury Celtic and Dewsbury Moor tuning in come Saturday morning and it would be amazing to go on and finish this job.”
Celtic’s base at The Irish Nash in Dewsbury and Dewsbury Moor ARLFC — where the Burgess brothers cut their teeth as juniors — will be opening on Saturday morning to allow supporters to cheer on the Dewsbury lads.
Walmsley’s partner Simone and baby Atticus will be in Brisbane to cheer him on.
He added: “At the start of the tour I had to be away from them and that was tough so soon after he’d been born.
“But once he could come over (after eight weeks) having that support from both of them has really helped.
“It’s been like a home away from home for me being able to see them in my spare time and it makes it all the more special being able to share these moments with them. I’m really fortunate.”
Walmsley has adapted superbly to life on the international stage, having made his England debut in the 29-10 win over Lebanon just four weeks ago.
Walmsley said: “You’re surrounded by the best players from your country.
“It’s obviously a lot tougher, a lot quicker and there’s more skill on show but it’s a different environment and the people around you are at the top of the game doing things at such a high level that it’s easy to fit in.
“When people like James Graham, Sam Burgess, Sean O’Loughlin and James Roby — such high-quality, seasoned players - are next to you it makes that transition so much easier. It’s helped me a lot to step up.”