Written by John Davidson
St Helens prop Alex Walmsley admits nothing but getting into a final this year is acceptable for his club.
Saints won the League Leader’s Shield last year and only lost a handful of games, but were knocked out in both the Super League semi-final and the Challenge semi-final. The same happened in 2017 when a Luke Gale drop-goal in extra-time meant they missed out on a place at Old Trafford.
Their semi-final hoodoo stretches back four years. In 2016 they lost to Warrington in the semi-finals, while the year before that St Helens went down to eventual grand final winners Leeds in the playoffs. Their last major title came in 2014 when they defeated Wigan in the grand final.
The Red V have started this season on fire, unbeaten after five rounds, but all that matters is Justin Holbrook’s men getting to Wembley and Old Trafford, according to Walmsley.
“If we’re going to be honest, anything less than a final this year is not going to be acceptable,” the front-rower said.
“We’ve lost that many semi-finals, so many in a row, it’s a hurdle we need to get past. Without a doubt our goal is to get past that semi-final and get back into finals, challenging for silverware.
“It was a frustrating season last year for the team, to play so well for the vast majority of the year and to come up short in two semi-finals. We need to get to finals, we’ve had that talk in the change rooms too many times after semi-final defeats.
“Nothing less than getting past that semi-final stage will be good enough.”
St Helens have been a well-oiled machine in the opening rounds, with new signings Lachlan Coote, Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paulo slotting in effortlessly. They have been outstanding in both attack and defence, with James Roby leading from the front.
Theo Fages has been dominant, forcing Danny Richardson out on loan. The dominant form of Walmsley and Luke Thompson in the middle has even sent Luke Douglas to Leigh for game-time.
Walmsley missed the 2018 campaign with a serious neck injury. But he has been back to his best in the past two months and making his presence felt. In five matches he has scored two tries and is averaging 4.4 tackle busts, 93.2 metres and 12.6 carries per game.
Apart from winning silverware for his club, the 28-year-old also has his eyes on international honours.
Walmsley was unavailable for England last year but its keen to be part of the Great Britain & Ireland touring party heading to the southern hemisphere in October.
“I need to make sure I build into the season,” the former Batley forward said.
“I’ve got targets for myself this season and one of them is to get back into that international reckoning and hopefully be part of the Great Britain tour at the end of the year. That’s at the back of my mind.”