FORMER Dewsbury Celtic and Batley Bulldogs forward Alex Walmsley has been called up to the England Rugby League squad for the first time in his professional career.
The current St Helens star admitted he was surprised to be included in the team, having not even been part of the 31-man elite training squad that was named in January.
“Jamie Peacock phoned me a couple of weeks ago asking for some visa details, just on the off-chance,” said Walmsley.
“I still didn’t expect it though, so to get the call was amazing, I was pinching myself a bit.
“It’s not as if I gave up hope, I just put it to the back of my mind and concentrated on myself and Saints, but I thought with me not being in the elite training squad I’d really struggle for the Samoa game.”
Walmsley, 27, left Celtic five years ago before playing for Batley Bulldogs. And after a superb season with the Championship club, he was signed by St Helens and admits that his progress into the England squad feels “unbelievable.”
He said: “To be where I was, knocking about with my mates on a local field, and where I am now, heading to Australia as part of a 20-man squad playing Samoa is unbelievable.”
“It’s been one milestone after another – signing for Batley, playing in the Championship, signing for Saints, playing Super League, playing in a Grand Final.
“The last five years have been such an unbelievable time, being here now caps it.
“It’s a big shock and massive honour, hopefully I’ll get to play, playing and training alongside the likes of James Graham and Sam Burgess will be a bit of a pinnacle.”
Despite roaring personal success in recent years, Walmsley says that he will never forget where it all began for him and that he still keeps in touch with his former teammates from Celtic.
He added: “I’m very proud of the route that took me into the game and to have done it in such a fashion where 99 per cent of rugby league players don’t make it.
“I still keep in touch with the lads I played with at Dewsbury, they definitely won’t let me get above myself.”
Walmsley is the third name in the squad who began his trade in the Heavy Woollen area, with brothers Sam and Tom Burgess also included in Wayne Bennett’s 20-man squad for the test against Samoa on May 6.
The Burgess brothers, who both play for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL, started their playing days with Dewsbury Moor.
Sam Burgess, who captained England during the four nations, said on social media it is, “always an honour to be selected,” as he is set to make his 18th appearance for his country.