SAINTS and England prop Alex Walmsley steps into the bright light of the new Super League season with more enthusiasm than most having been in a dark place for much of 2018.

His confident return from a broken neck undoubtedly embodies the New Beginnings catchline of the sport’s fresh start.

And having blasted off a few of the cobwebs in the recent Hull testimonial, Walmsley is keen to now let his rugby do the taking to draw a complete line under that ill-fated evening in March.

He said: “I don’t want to be defined by an injury, but obviously 2018 was tough from a mental point of view. Thankfully I have put that year to bed now.

“New year, new beginnings and I am back on the field so hopefully it won’t be too long before people can stop talking about it.

“A stigma comes with those sorts of injuries.

“It is not something that can just affect your career, it can affect your life as well.

“We all know the physical side of rugby league, and the risks we take when taking the field. That’s the nature of the beast - injuries can happen.

“Unfortunately I got a bad one – thankfully it has not defined my life or my career.”

In the 10 months on the sidelines, from hospital bed to rehab, the big prop has no doubt re-lived that split-second moment from the Warrington game.

Saints’ defensive tails were up as they pinned the Wire ball carriers inside their 20m when an enthusiastic Walmsley tried to put a big shot on Mitch Brown before recoiling in agony.

“It was frustrating because it came from a horrible technique, something I have never done in my career. That is the frustrating bit about it.

“I got it all wrong and got bitten in the backside off it,” he said.

Walmsley was given the all clear at the end of 2018 and made his return in the testimonial match against Hull a fortnight ago, coming through it well after a tough opening 20 against the big Hull pack.

He said: "There were a lot of nerves before the Hull game, you work things up in your head but fortunately as soon as we kicked off and I got involved, and it felt like I had not been away."

If there has been a silver lining to the dark cloud, it has been the advancement of the younger front rowers who stepped up to the plate last year, players who Walmsley will now be working alongside.

“I’m excited to work alongside those guys, especially the likes of Jack Ashworth and Matty Lees who have got another year under their belts, and a little bit more between the ears.

“They are better for it.

“And then Tommo has had all the plaudits already and I could stand here and speak all day about how exceptional he is.

“I really can’t wait to pack down with him because he is one of the best front rowers in the world at the minute.

“It has been coming for three or four years with Tommo.

“I roomed with Tommo the night before he made his debut in 2013 down in London.

“He had turned 18 the day before and you just knew this lad was going to be something and he has started to hit those targets now.

“He is an exceptional talent, with everything you want in a front rower; he’s got speed, strength, skill and desire. He ticks all of those boxes.

“We both enjoy carrying the ball so there might be a few arguments on the field as to who is getting the next one, but it is going to be great,” Walmsley said.

Tonight;s game will see the shot clock used for the first time - a move designed to speed up the game. The reduction of subs from 10 to eight is designed to create more spaces in tiring defences.

The moves are supported by Saints, who feel they have the pack to exploit the opportunities they will create.

Walmsley said: "We enjoy set-to-set rugby – we always have done. Last year teams could not go set-for-set with us. The game we lost was was broken game so to speak, teams wanted to slow us.

"We have a great pack but we have some electric backs now.

"The rules are going to be a challenge for everyone but I genuinely believe we will respond well off the back of these changes."

Super League have chosen the biggest derby in rugby league to kickstart the re-booted competition, with champions Wigan coming to town.

It is, as ever, eagerly anticipated and a big crowd will pack into the stadium despite it being a Thursday night.

"The fans look forward to Saints v Wigan.

"In fact the whole rugby league community does – we as players certainly do.

"It is a great way to start the year. They talk about new beginnings and wanting to re-invent the sport, but what better way than starting with a game as big as this.

"Both clubs have made changes. They have a new coach and new players, we have brought in some new faces as well.

"It is exciting to be a part of," Walmsley.