Alex Walmsley Interview
Alex Walmsley admits St Helens are still hurting from semi-final defeats in both the play-offs and the Challenge Cup last season.
Saints were denied a place at both Old Trafford and Wembley in 2015 by treble-winners Leeds who beat them 20-13 in the play-offs and 24-14 in their Challenge Cup semi-final.
The six-time Super League champions get their 2016 campaign underway at home to Huddersfield on Friday night and Walmsley says his side will be more motivated for success after last season.
“To lose in both semi-finals was very disappointing and heartbreaking because I firmly believe we were in those games and on another day might have won,” Walmsley told NothingButLeague.
“It has made us more motivated to do well this season. We’re hurting and we’ve trained even harder because of that.
“One tackle, one set, one try could be the difference between us going to Old Trafford so it’s those little things like giving away soft errors and tackle four penalties which add up and are ultimately the difference between coming first and finishing second.
“As a team we have always been there or thereabouts. Hopefully we will be a different animal this year and those semi-finals will go our way.”
Walmsley received strong praise for his performances last season and was one of three contenders for the Man of Steel award.
The former Batley player believes head coach Keiron Cunningham has played a big role in his development since arriving at Saints in 2013 and says he was pleased to see his coach sign a new deal until 2018 last week.
“He’s a great coach and a great person,” explained the prop, who won the Grand Final in 2014 with St Helens.
“What he’s done for the club as a player and now as a coach is amazing.
“He’s been great with me since I made the step up from Batley and has made me a better player. To have him as the coach for the next few years is going to be great for me and the team as a whole.”
With each team having strengthened ahead of the new campaign, Walmsley predicts the gap between the top and bottom sides will lessen this year and as a result says it could be the closest campaign in the competition’s history.
“It’s going to be a tough season- there are no easy games. Every team has strengthened and are looking sharp.
“As soon as the fixtures get announced you’re looking out for the two Wigan games and obviously the Good Friday match against them.
“Leeds and Warrington are the other games I look forward to the most. They’re always tough battles but the way that Super League is expanding each team each week is going to be a tough ask and I’m sure it’s going to be the closest Super League in history.”