SAINTS prop Alex Walmsley is about to begin his tenth year in the red vee - and will kick off his testimonial with a game against Leigh on Friday, 21 January.

The Star's Mike Critchley caught up with him to ask about what playing for Saints has meant and what he still wants to achieve.

MC: So how does it feel, getting ready to play a tenth year in the red vee?

AW: It is quite surreal to be honest and it feels like only yesterday that I was rocking up at the ground, driving in from Dewsbury in my little Peugeot 106 and starting pre-season.

It has been a whirlwind, especially these last couple of years which seem to have flown.

It is quite daunting, but exiting and I feel proud of being able to go on and reach my tenth year.

I have turned into one of the senior players all of a sudden.

MC: If they had said 10 years ago, this is where your career would be – four Grand final rings, a Challenge Cup winners medal and a World Cup Final appearance – what would you have said?

AW: Genuinely - I feel like one day I am going to get found out! If you think I only had 12 months at Batley before signing.

And looking back it was a bit of a chance, the club taking a bit of a punt on me, but there was an opportunity there. But genuinely I would not even have half imagined what I would have achieved here if you had asked me 10 years ago.

To play a few Super League games was realistically where I thought I would have been back then, I wouldn’t have dawned on me that I could go on and do this.

St Helens Star:

MC: You are 31 and a peak age for a prop – do you feel like you have plenty of business to do yet?

AW: I do. I genuinely feel I am in the best shape I have been for a long time.

I can’t remember my body feeling as well as it does at this minute. Obviously, I am saying that before the season starts and might be singing a different tune six or seven games in.

I feel good – and considering I am early thirties I would like to think I have got four or five good years left in me at least.

Touch wood, stay away from the injuries that kind of slow you down.

I have had a good run at in recent years – and even going back to my neck but even that let the rest of my body repair and have a year out.

I have had a couple of niggly ones since, with my knee, but I have always come back flying.

I would like to think playing to 35 to 36 is more than achievable.

But one thing with me is that I have to still be playing at a level and standard that I am happy with and still contributed. I would never want to be a passenger and stay to pick up a wage. That is the best way to go about it.

St Helens Star:

MC: You say you are feeling good. Has the longer off-season without the international series helped you in that sense?

AW: Yes, that is two years in a row without a proper international campaign.

Every time I used to come back from a big tour or World Cup I would struggle at the start of the year. I think when I came back from the World Cup in 2017 that affected the start of 18 and had an impact on my injury.

It was the same after the 2019 tour, my body struggled in 20.

To have these extra weeks where your body is not dealing with five or six extra big games, it has been a blessing and something I wanted to exploit and get the best out in pre-season.

I feel like I am in a good spot, strong, fit and ticking everything I need to be ticking. I know it doesn’t seem like yesterday since the Grand Final but I am reaping the rewards for those extra weeks.

St Helens Star:

MC: Your testimonial year runs parallel with a big season for Saints – going for the four in a row – and with the World Cup at the end of it?

AW: I like to feel the World Cup is definitely going ahead, but for me I always internationals that to back of my mind.

It is something I am proud and privileged to do but I always deal with it at that time of year.

The best thing you can do to make sure I am in the best position for the World Cup is to make sure I am playing well, and that is concentrating on Saints and what we have planned for this year.

Shaun – as an international coach – is going to be a bit more hands on than I have been used to in the past but first and foremost performing well for your club is the stepping stone to play for England and helping, hopefully, to win a World Cup.

St Helens Star:

MC: If you look at testimonial beneficiaries at Saints – you can see why the club has been so successful with the likes of James Roby, Tommy Makinson and Jonny Lomax all sticking around to be key parts in evolving the team. You now join that list – even if it may have been more lucrative to go elsewhere in the past?

AW: I think one of the reasons we have been so successful this last few years is we have players like Tommy, Jonny and Robes who have been here a long time, then we are re-signing blokes like Morgan and Matty Lees.

If every rugby league decision was financial, then I doubt we’d have the squad or the trophies we have had this past few years.

I am not knocking lads for ever doing it, but there are always opportunities to chase a pay check , but what we have at the club and what it stands for is that it creates and environment where people want to stay.

What the club have achieved this past few years, the atmosphere in the dressing room that comes off the back of what we have instilled as a club and as an organisation.

People want to stay here and they want to play for St Helens and want to win stuff.

St Helens Star:

Looking at our spine this last few years and it has been as good as it gets; to have Cootey, Jonny, Theo, Robes, Morgs and Tommy… we have had superstars in every single position.

We have been privileged. Maybe that is why we have so many testimonials – people want to stay and be a part of that team and play for the club.

That is a credit to where we are as an organisation – in all the successful teams in sport, not just rugby league, there’s always been a group of players who have stayed there a long time.

That is a credit to what we have built and are building.

St Helens Star:

MC: For you personally, you have won four Super League titles – do you still have that same hunger for a fifth?

AW: Yes, it is like the quote from NFL quarterback Tom Brady: ‘You wanna know which ring is my favourite? The next one,’ and it is no different for us.

We just want to keep bringing success to the club.

We are very much a humble set of lads and what we have achieved this last three years has been enormous, but that is done and dusted now.

We don’t want to live in the past – we are looking at this up-and-coming year. We are going to fight tooth and nail to make sure we are in these finals again and pick up silverware because that is what this squad should be capable of.

The comp has strengthened, it will be tough as everyone has bought players, and the task gets harder.

We are right up for the challenge and we can’t wait to embrace it.

St Helens Star:

MC: It is going to be a proud moment when you walk down that tunnel on 21 January.

AW: Really, really proud. I am a bit daunted by it – it’s a proud feeling to represent the club and to do so for 10 years.

There’s not many organisations like St Helens in the world so to walk out there ahead of a tenth year will be an incredibly proud moment.

The fans have always supported me so much since I came over from Yorkshire and I feel like an adopted Sintelliner and they have come out and backed me through it all.

So, I am looking forward to going out there – playing and putting on a spectacle.

Tickets are on sale now:

South stand: £15 adult, £12 concession (65+), £8 Junior (5-16+under 5 free) or £40 Family ticket (2 adults, 2 Juniors) – Unallocated blocks.

If there are any padded seats in your area, please note these seats are reserved for Hospitality guests.

West Stand: £13 adult, £10 concession, £7 junior – standing.