Alex Walmsley was flattered to be voted the best Super League newcomer in 2013 by League Express readers.
The 23-year-old St Helens star had a superb debut season after joining from Batley Bulldogs, playing 26 times and scoring four tries.
He won over 40 per cent of the final vote, and was named third best prop in the league behind Eorl Crabtree and Jamie Peacock.
“It’s good, really good,” he said.
“To get recognised is flattering by itself, but to come on top is really nice. Especially with votes from the fans of the other clubs as well, which you don’t often see.”
When quizzed on the secret to his seamless transition from the Championship, Walmsley said: “There isn’t one.
“The Championship is a good place to learn your trade. Being in a good squad with a good set of lads helps, too; obviously Saints are one of the best teams. It’s always easier when you have world class players around you giving you advice.
“I set myself a target of five or six games last year to break myself in, but it didn’t work out that way. We had a few injuries and I got thrown in early on, but luckily I kept my place and it’s worked out really well for me.”
After a slow start to their 2013 campaign, Saints battled back to finish fifth and were knocked out by Leeds in the play-offs. But Walmsley is confident his side is better placed to succeed in 2014.
“Browny (Nathan Brown) has brought in some exciting new players, in particular Luke Walsh,” he said.
“We really missed a halfback last year, an out-and-out halfback. Obviously Wilko [Jon Wilkin] did a great job, but he isn’t really an out-and-out halfback and that’s going to help us out. Luke looks quality in training, and I think he will have a top year.”
Speaking of the other new signings, who will help fill out the pack, he said: “They’re all big lads, especially [Mose] Masoe. I’m not sure what he’s tipping the scales at but it’s something heavy!”
“With [Kyle] Amor you have a real workhorse, an old school prop who will take it up and do the work, do all the tackles and really giving something to help the young lads out.
“He’s only 26, but he’s been about a few years and he will really help us out in the pack. Rich Beaumont is going to be an asset; he’s big and strong too.”
This influx of classy forwards means there will be competition for places, but Walmsley sees that as a positive.
“The pack is looking really well this year – there’s a lot of competition for places,” he said.
“That’s a good thing – you don’t want to be in a situation where you feel comfortable. Some players will be disappointed because there are only 17 places and there’s competition everywhere.
“We have a big squad and everyone is pushing one another. You want the best out of each other and yourself, and you have to play at a high standard or you won’t get picked.
“I’m just going to do what I’ve always done and train hard. I have worked a lot on my ball skills this pre-season with Keiron Cunningham and that’s the main thing really, taking it to the next level.”
It’s hard not to draw comparisons with Sam Burgess when you take into account the weapons at Walmsley’s disposal, but the Yorkshireman was keen to play them down.
“Sam’s in a class of his own,” he said.
“He’s the best forward in the world and represents the new era of forwards. What I’ve done for the last few years is run hard and try to generate quick play-the-balls. I think that’s going to be my game.”
Walmsley does, however, see his handling skills as a real asset.
“I’m not going to be throwing 50 passes a game and 20-yarders, but having that skill-set can help you with defenders,” he said.
“If you see someone who can’t pass you will generally get two or three men at him, but you might hang off someone who can pass until you know what he’s doing.”
Looking ahead to 2014, Walmsley praised coach Nathan Brown’s meticulous approach and feels it might pay off.
“Brown is a quality coach and a good bloke as well,” he said.
“I have only had one other professional coach [John Kear] but with Nathan you get a very modern style.
“At Batley we were a well-drilled and hard team to beat. But with Nathan Brown it goes to the next level. He is very particular about how you play and your defensive technique. It’s quite challenging o pick it all up, but all the boys love him.
“Under Nathan Brown we have one of the best coaches in the league. It’s his second year with some new players in and I think this is going to be a big year for us.”