Alex Walmsley hails St Helens triumph as ‘greatest English Rugby League achievement’


ALEX Walmsley says St Helens’ World Club Challenge conquest eclipses that of Wigan 29 years ago as the greatest British Rugby League triumph in living memory.

The giant prop was so exultant after the 13-12 success against Penrith on Saturday that – according to those on the pitch at full-time – he was telling team-mates, opponents and media representatives he planned to retire immediately.

Too young at 32 to remember Wigan’s stunning 1994 win over Brisbane, he contended: “That was at a time when Wigan was probably the most dominant team in the world.

“The game’s changed so much in 30 years since Wigan did it so for us. But now this is the greatest English Rugby League achievement.”

Great Britain last won the Ashes in Australia in 1970 and the 1972 World Cup in France. Wins in Sydney in 1988 and 2006 are often venerated, but they were during losing series for the Lions.

Asked if he was referring to ‘living memory’, Walmsley answered: “Absolutely. I don’t want to undersell it. It is exactly that.

“We’ve got four or five lads there who played in the World Cup and came up short in the semi-final. They’ve come out here on the big stage again and shown what they’re about.

“I’m so proud of them – Jack Welsby, Matty Lees, Morgan Knowles, those boys. We played so many of them (Penrith players) in the semi-final (against Samoa). So to come out here and show what they’re about is unbelievable for them.”

Walmsley embraced Saints great James Graham when he finally left the field at BlueBet Stadium after an extended visit to the southern hill, where the travelling fans were assembled.

“We can hang our hats now,” he said.

“When we’re done, when we’re retired, we can say we did something special tonight.

“For our sport back home, this is massive.

”We came up short against the Roosters in 2020 and we’ve not had the opportunity since. There’s one thing about elite sport: you only get given so many opportunities to succeed and do amazing things and we weren’t going to let that opportunity slip.

“We were going to do absolutely everything to make sure we got a result. If we’d fallen short, we would have held our heads up and said ‘you know what – fair play’ but thankfully we got the result.

“Penrith is a team that’s absolutely dominated the NRL for two years and they’ll probably dominate this year as well.”

Asked what he would remember about the night when he retires for real, Walmsley said: “Just turning around and seeing 800 St Helens fans behind the sticks who paid so much money to come out here and support us.

“We’re a working-class town, we’re not affluent people.

“We’re in a cost-of-living crisis, not just in our country but around the world. Finances are hard to come by.

“What it means to them will stick with me forever because it just goes to show that in our small town of St Helens, what we bring to them just means so much to those people.”