Saints pair hungry for World Cup action

Alex Walmsley (right) celebrates a try against Hull at Magic Weekend
Alex Walmsley (right) celebrates a try against Hull at Magic Weekend

Mark Percival and Alex Walmsley made a 20,000-mile round trip as part of the a 20-man England squad which faced Samoa in a post-World Cup friendly in Australia five months ago - and didn’t lace up their boots in competitive action.

It was a controversial decision by international boss Wayne Bennett to omit the St Helens duo from his first choice 17 on the day - but centre Percival and prop Walmsley have now put that disappointment to bed - and are both hell-bent on playing a massive role in helping their country lift the world’s greatest RL trophy for the first time since 1972 when it was achieved under the Great Britain banner on a better qualifying record after a 10-10 draw with Australia in the French final.

Walmsley, who was Super League’s top metre maker in 2017 with more metres (4,256) and carries (526) than any of his rivals, will have massive competition for a slot in England’s starting 17, including former Saints’ prop James Graham,

but believes his omission from the team which locked horns with Samoa has made him more determined than ever to earn his first cap.

He said: “Being left out really ignited my hunger to play for my country and fingers crossed I am hoping to get that chance.

“I’ve spoken to Wayne about the frustration of not being selected for the Samoan game but what he said is strictly between him and me. Unfortunately, some one had to miss out on this occasion and it just happened to be me.

“Hopefully I will get my chance to pull on the jersey in Australia and it will be an incredibly proud moment for me, singing the National Anthem in front of thousands of fans and is likely to send shivers down my back.”

Bennett’s decision to switch Zak Hardaker to centre against Samoa raised a few eyebrows at the time but since then the Cas full back has been provisionally banned following an alleged cocaine-related offence and it looks likely to have opened the door for Percival.

“It was one of them things,” said Percival, who made his England debut against France 12 months ago.

“Wayne felt Hardaker was going to be a better choice in that spot so I just took it on the chin.

“It would have been nice to play and get that experience against a good Samoan side but I enjoyed it, I had a great week with the lads.

“I’ve had an OK season so I thought I had given myself a good chance of getting picked for the World Cup but you don’t know what’s going to happen.

“We have a lot of quality players, so I was a bit nervous and to get the call was the best feeling I’ve ever had.

“Now I’ve got the chance to try and represent my country in the World Cup.”

The England squad is now settled into a 10-day training camp in Perth which will finally give Percival a chance to put his highly forgettable end to Super League XX11 behind him.

Percival blamed himself for St Helens’ 23-22 golden point extra-time semi-final defeat by Castleford after missing four of his five kicks at goal.

“I was disappointed with that because I thought I kicked well throughout the year,” he said. “It was a tough one to take for a few days.

“We all make mistakes and you have to get back on the horse and there’s no better way than doing that in the World Cup.

“I want to knuckle down and work hard and try and get one of them spots nailed down. I’m putting everything into that, trying to impress and making sure I’m doing all the right things and just being the best I can.”