Walmsley would ‘thrive’ in the NRL

Saints' prop Alex Walmsley will thrive in Australia's NRL league, according to England teammate Chris Heighington
Saints' prop Alex Walmsley will thrive in Australia's NRL league, according to England teammate Chris Heighington
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As he prepares to make his belated England debut, St Helens prop Alex Walmsley has been told he would “thrive” in the NRL.

The 27-year-old former Batley forward is thought to be in big demand by Australian clubs who will be casting a close eye on his performance against Lebanon in the World Cup at Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday.

Newcastle, Parramatta, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra reportedly lead the race to sign Walmsley, who would have won his first England cap against Australia in Melbourne but for illness.

Chris Heighington, who will move from Cronulla to Newcastle next season, has been impressed by his new England team-mate’s 2017 season and also the impact he has made in training.

Asked if Walmsley would succeed in the NRL, Heighington said: “One hundred per cent. He’s big, fast and has got good ball skills.

“He’d really thrive in the NRL to be honest. He’s doing a great job in Super League and building some confidence being around the older players. He’d really suit the NRL.

“I get to watch a few of the Super League games and he’s been unreal for them. He’s been really good at training as well. Unfortunately he came down up a virus but he’s good to go this week.”

The introduction of Walmsley in place of the injured Sam Burgess is the only change to the side that lost 18-4 to the Kangaroos.

Warrington second rower Ben Currie, who was a late addition to the side for Friday’s opening game, not only keeps his place in the matchday squad but will make his first start for his country, with Walmsley on the bench.

England coach Wayne Bennett said: “Alex was in the matchday squad last week and he was unlucky not to make the field. He’s feeling good again and I want to see what he can offer against Lebanon.”

It will be England’s first international against Lebanon, who are coached by former Australia international and New South Wales stand-off Brad Fittler.

The Cedars won their first World Cup match, beating France 29-18 in Canberra, where half-back Mitchell Moses capped off a fine performance with 13 points, much to the admiration of Heighington, a close friend of Lebanon captain Robbie Farah.

“I played 11 years and just over 200 games with Robbie,” said Heighington, who was one of eight England players at a community event at Clovelly on Tuesday. “We came through the system at the same time. We’re a similar age and I’m still good really mates with him.

“It’s good to see him going so well and really pushing Lebanon rugby league. I watched their game against France and they played pretty well.

“They’ve got some players with good NRL experience, players like Farah, (Mitch) Moses and Timmy Mannah up front, and Michael Lichaa, who really went well at nine when he came off the bench.

“We’re in for another hard game. It’s a Test match for England and we’ve got to prepare like we’re playing the Aussies again.

“Training has been intense, pretty tough to be honest, we’re taking the mindset that it’s against one of the top teams.”