Had injury not befallen St Helens prop Alex Walmsley at the end of last season, he could have well been on the podium in Wigan last November celebrating with England.
Walmsley had produced undoubtedly the best season of his career in 2015, eventually being named on the three-man shortlist for the Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel alongside Adam Cuthbertson and eventual winner Zak Hardaker.
However, he was forced to undergo foot surgery, ruling him out of what many assumed was a certain inclusion in Steve McNamara’s squad for the Test series against New Zealand.
But as he and the Saints begin to pick up their form at just the right time – Walmsley has been crucial during the Saints’ run of seven consecutive wins – the 26-year-old insists that long-awaited England call is not on his mind just yet.
“My main priority is St Helens, it always has been since I signed here,” Walmsley says.
“I’ve got some more in the tank to come out; my match fitness is the best it’s been all year which is pleasing from my point of view and I’m getting back to somewhere close to my best. If I keep my performances steady enough and good enough we’ll see where we are at the end of the year in regards to England, won’t we?”
As they prepare to try make it eight wins in a row on Friday night when they travel to Wigan, Walmsley is quick to point out that the Saints will have to be much-improved on the win which made it a magnificent seven: last Friday’s victory against Catalans Dragons.
“It was in the back of our minds that it was such a big game, and it’s good to have that bit of a cushion now,” he says. “The message is still the same though: we’ll let the league take care of itself and we’ll perform as we can every week. Mathematically we can still finish top but we can finish fifth too, so we’ve just got to take things one game at a time.
“The Super 8s is tough, it’s not going to get easier. All those boys at the top have got to start playing each other soon though which means some of them are going to be dropping some points. We were slow off the mark last week against Catalans and we can’t afford to do that again.”
And after beating their arch-rivals as recently as last month, Walmsley insists he’s expecting a backlash from the Warriors on Friday.
“We’ll only worry about Wigan though; they’ll be a different animal to the one we faced two weeks ago and they’ll be really wanting to get one over on us after what we did there.
“It took us 35 minutes to get going but it was great to grind out yet another win heading into this weekend. We can’t be starting slow again in the Super 8s because there’s so much at stake.”