There was one name that stood out when St Helens revealed their 19-man squad for Friday’s clash with Huddersfield – Alex Walmsley.
After a gruelling four-month period in rehabilitation following both ankle and shoulder surgery, the 2015 Man of Steel nominee has been deemed fit to play in his team’s Super League opener against the Giants, despite only returning to full training with the squad two weeks ago.
His inclusion in the squad was ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for the 25-year-old, who has been left to contemplate St Helens’ semi-final play-off defeat to Leeds Rhinos last season, the most recent game he featured in.
Injury effectively ruled him out of England’s international Test series victory over New Zealand, with the potential opportunity to represent his country replaced by twelve hour days on his own in the treatment room.
But, with his selection in the Saints squad confirmed, those difficult winter months have been made worthwhile.
“It means a lot to be included,” Walmsley told TotalRL.
“You can ask anyone who has played Rugby League and gone through rehab how long those days are. You’re up at seven in the morning and the last one out of the door. They’re long, lonely days, especially over winter. Mentally it’s a big strain, so I’m glad to be fit and raring to go.
“Obviously it was touch and go whether I’d be good for the start of the year, but thankfully we’ve got a world-class medical facility with physios and conditioners who are very smart with what they do. I’m delighted to have ticked the boxes to be available for selection.
“When you go into the off-season and have the surgeries that I’ve had done you have that doubt that you’ll be ready for the start of the next season. Hopefully now I can play a full campaign.”
Walmsley’s potential return will be against arguably the most formidable pack in Super League, that of the Huddersfield Giants.
Had a great time doing the @SuperLeague launch today in Manchester, can’t wait for it to all start again next week ??
— Alex Walmsley (@engywalmsley) January 28, 2016
But despite not taking a carry for 125 days, the former Batley star insists that there is no better way to reintroduce his body back to the demands of the great game.
“You can do as much training in the world, but you’ll never get that match intensity, you can’t replicate that,” he said.
“Huddersfield have consistently been a good team for five years now, even longer than that really. They’ve been there or thereabouts and it’s always going to be a physical challenge going up against them.
“They’ve signed well in the pack and brought in Sam Rapira who is a big name in Rugby League. It’s a massive first test, but they’re the games you want to have.
“You can’t ease your way back into Rugby League so there’s no better way than going up against Huddersfield. If selected and I pass the required tests then I am looking forward to a tough challenge and getting back match fit. I’m relishing the first contact.”