Alex Walmsley knows a thing or two about opportunities in Rugby League, especially within the Championship.
Now rated as one of the best front rowers on either side of the world and having secured four Super League rings, Walmsley was overlooked by the sport’s leading clubs as a youngster.
It was only when John Kear, then coach of Batley, offered the Dewsbury Celtic prop a shot at the professional game, that his career began to rapidly progress.
After just one season at the Bulldogs – and a Championship Young Player of the Year award – Walmsley’s ability was recognised by St Helens. And the rest, as they say, is history.
On Friday night Walmsley marked ten years as a Saint with his testimonial game against Leigh Centurions and it offered him the chance to reflect on his unusual journey to the top.
The 31-year-old was asked whether at any point during his days at Dewsbury Celtic, or Batley, he gave up on a dream of making it to the top.
“To be honest, I didn’t have a Rugby League dream until I signed for St Helens,” Walmsley responded.
“Not going through scholarships or academies or anything like that, it was never part of my destiny or dreams to be a professional Rugby League player.
“I loved my time at Dewsbury Celtic in my amateur days and have some really fond memories of that. Being given the opportunity to go to Batley was huge. Then it was St Helens.
“There was always a feeling that I was a bit of an imposter, that somebody was going to figure me out and I’d be back in the amateur game.
“The first time I felt like I was a Super League player and I could make a career out of it, it was Good Friday in 2013 when Browny (then Saints coach Nathan Brown) picked me against Wigan.
“That gave me the confidence and belief that I could have a career in the game.
“Thinking about it, there was still that feeling that I’d get a tap on the shoulder to say ‘come on mate, let’s get back to Dewsbury Celtic, you’ve had your fun’.
“But thankfully it’s worked out really well. I’m grateful to St Helens for giving me that opportunity in the first place.”
Walmsley’s journey offers two reasons for reflection for Championship and League 1 clubs.
Not only does it show that they can provide platforms for players to become genuine superstars, but it also illustrates the importance of monitoring the best talent in the amateur game, which Walmsley is keen to endorse.
“I get asked about it by lads from League 1 and the Championship and I feel really strongly about the talent we have there and especially in the amateur game,” he explained.
“As people and players we all develop at different speeds and rates. Just because you don’t get an opportunity at a Scholarship or Academy, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get them further down the line.
“I’d like to feel that I can be an example for clubs to keep taking note and not dismiss lads that don’t get those early foundations.
“Don’t get me wrong, it makes it tougher to become a professional player, because everyone else has these core skills that they take for granted that they learnt in the Academy or Scholarship.
“I had to learn that at 22, 23 and 24.
“It does make it tougher. But there should be a route for players to be able to transition, especially to the Championship.
“I feel like we are seeing that now. I look at my old team Batley and how many lads they’ve picked up from Dewsbury Celtic and other teams like Shaw Cross.
“George Senior springs to mind. He was playing at Dewsbury Celtic and is now playing for Batley.
“I like to feel there will be more transitions from the amateur game to the professional and I hope clubs notice that, because there are lads there.
“Let’s be honest, our playing pool isn’t as big as other sports, so we shouldn’t be dismissive of players just because they’re from lower teams.
“We should keep our eyes out and give these lads opportunities.”
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