Walmsley to make England debut

Walmsley to make England debut

England coach Wayne Bennett has confirmed St Helens wrecking ball Alex Walmsley will make his international debut in the World Cup clash against Lebanon in Sydney on Saturday night. 

The 27-year-old missed the tournament opener with a virus but is expected to come into the squad for this weekend's must-win clash, most likely at the expense of Sam Burgess who picked up a knee injury in the 18-4 loss to Australia. 

The South Sydney hard man has been ruled out for at least three weeks but the signs were good at training as he got through plenty of tests on his left leg during a 30-minute hit-out in sweltering conditions at Redfern Oval.  

"I think if you said that the final was this week then he'd be playing," his brother, Tom, said on Monday morning. 

"He's feeling a lot better a few days after [the injury] so that's when you can really tell where he's at. He's feeling good and we’re pretty hopeful that we can get him back for the semi-final or even before that in the quarter-final."

Burgess's absence opens the door for Walmsley to make his England debut. 

"He'll play. He's doing it a bit tough with the physio at the moment but he'll be playing," Bennett said. 

"Regardless of what other players I pick, he'll definitely be in the team because he should have been there on Friday but he wasn't up to it."

Walmsley is coming off a huge year in the Super League that saw him run for a competition-best 4,256 metres from a league-high 525 carries. 

"He's such a good local lad – I know him from back home – so it was hard for him to miss out but he'll be making up for it this week," Burgess said. 

"He's had a great year at Saints and he has had for a couple of years now. He makes so many metres and he's a handful to put down so I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do when he puts on a show for the Australian crowd."

England veteran James Roby has seen firsthand how destructive Walmsley is at club level and is eagerly looking forward to see him get a chance on the international stage. 

"He was very unlucky with illness last week to miss out, but he's ready for it," Roby said. 

"I've played with him at St Helens for a few years and the way he's been playing has been fantastic. 

"I really just hope he can get out there and do what he does week in, week out for St Helens. I'm confident he can do that because he's training very well and he's a big lad and he's awkward and he's definitely going to attract some defenders to him. 

"He runs very hard, he's very big and he gives it his all. He'll come on and you'll probably see a few tackle busts and a few big hits. He's all-action and a high-impact player on the field."

Walmsley's inclusion for Burgess via the bench – with Ben Currie to start in the back row – Is England's only change from their opening-week loss to Austalia.

England team:

1 Jonny Lomax

2 Jermaine McGillvary

3 Kallum Watkins

4 John Bateman

5 Ryan Hall

6 Gareth Widdop

7 Luke Gale

8 Chris Hill

9 Josh Hodgson

10 James Graham

11 Ben Currie

12 Elliot Whitehead

13 Sean O'Loughlin

14 Alex Walmsley

15 Chris Heighington

16 Thomas Burgess

17 James Roby