April 18, 2024

Challenge Cup: Alex Walmsley and St Helens ready for Leigh ‘bell-ringer’ semi-final

Centre: Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington Date: Saturday, July 22 Start: 14:30 BST Cover: Live on BBC One, iPlayer and the BBC Sport app, commentary on local BBC radio and live text on BBC Sport

There will be no glory when St Helens take on Leigh in the Challenge Cup semi-final on Saturday.

The Saints may have won four Grand Finals in a row and are the reigning world champions, but prop Alex Walmsley says that will not matter for 80 minutes against one of the best teams in this year’s Super League.

“If we are not at our best then we will not come up with the spoils,” said Walmsley Live Rugby 5 Series Podcast. “Nothing is ever given, nothing is ever certain.

“And, we are coming up against a side that was great.”

History means nothing, says Walmsley

Impressively, Walmsley takes aim at a Leigh side who have won 13 league games out of 19, sit second in the table and are also 80 minutes from Wembley in their first season back in Super League.

The Saints hope to make huge progress towards winning the Challenge Cup final in 14th place and still have their sights set on a treble of cup, league and world titles.

They took the crown of the world with a a great win over Australian NRL Champions Penrith in Sydney at the start of the season.

In comparison, Leigh have won just one Wembley final, back in 1972. But they are causing a stir this season with eight rounds remaining.

England international Walmsley knows his Saints have a battle on their hands, regardless of what they have achieved in recent years.

“It’s all well and good talking about the Penrith game, and it was pretty special and it’s something we’ll hang our hat on and talk about for a long time, but that was five months ago,” Walmsley said.

Saints expended energy, emotion and physical effort to win in Australia, and form suffered with it

“Where we’re sitting is completely different. We’ll take those experiences with us this weekend, but at the same time, if we’re not achieving what we need to be hitting in terms of our performance, just because we’re at St Helens doesn’t give us the right to win these games.

“I don’t think we ever walked on [to a field] thinking we are unbeatable. I think we always knew that if we are at our best, we have a very good chance of winning.

“We respect other teams in the Super League. We do not at all think that because of the success we have had, we have the right to go up on a rugby field and that we automatically have that right to get the result.

“That is not the case, and it never will be.”

Patchy Saints ‘turned a corner’

Leigh came up for this weekend’s semi-final with a 24-22 win over Salford – their 12th win from the past 13 games in all competitions.

On the flip side, St Helens lost 14-12 at home to the leaders of the Catalan league, a game which Walmsley felt set the Red Vee up perfectly for Saturday’s test.

“It had a semi-final or Grand Final feel about it, that game. That kind of intensity about it,” he said of the clash with the Dragons.

“There was 12 minutes of non-stop play at the start of the game. In general, that’s unheard of. We came up short, we didn’t get the result we wanted, but in terms of our preparation for next week, we learned a lot about what to expect.

Leigh full-back John Asiata looks to offload a flick under pressure
John Asiata was one of Leigh’s stand-outs, combining attack with a loose forward role in the old fashioned way.

“Going set, the physical demand, the intensity we have to rise to, to be at our best, if we’re going to hit the other side of the form.

“The Catalans and Leigh are the two teams that got the best this year, and that’s why they’re sitting in first and second place.”

By their own lofty standards, St Helen’s league form has been rare this campaign. But normally they sit fourth in the table, with just six excellent points and a game in hand. Their superstars believe they are getting back to where they want to be now.

“We haven’t had the kind of form we’ve had in recent years, but I’d like to think we’ve turned a corner from where we were,” said Walmsley.

“What we’ve hit this year is what teams in any sport go through sometimes. You go through sticky bits of form and rough patches. It’s normal but you can have a downer.

“For us as a team at the moment it’s getting back to that mindset of delivering week in week out.

“We have shown in patches this year the side we are capable of being and getting the performances and the victory.”

And now, Walmsley says, he and his teammates are ready to channel their adrenaline and intensity into Saturday’s big game.

“I don’t think it’s more important this year than last year than the year before. It’s a semi-final, we’re one game away from Wembley and we’re going to treat it like we’ve treated every semi-final for the last four years,” he said.

“A lot of the reason for this weekend is to be excited. We come up against a team that was exciting, that has entered the Premier League and is a team that is not only pushing for the playoffs but for the titles.

“This weekend they are pushing for the Challenge Cup final, we are playing against a very dangerous side. We need to be ready and prepared for what will be a real bellwether.”

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