Alex Walmsley “best prop in Super League”, says St Helens coach

Walmsley produced a series of rampaging runs which caused havoc for the Rhinos defence and also scored his 50th career try as Saints bounced back from their dramatic golden-point defeat by Catalans Dragons which dashed their hopes of claiming the League Leaders’ Shield.

Woolf said: “I thought Alex was outstanding. Everyone sees the carries he makes but he really backed that up with some strong defence.

“He had to stand up tonight because we had a couple of blokes out.

“I know I’m biased but he’s best prop in the competition. There are not too many players that can do what he does and he does that on a consistent basis.

“I think over the last five or six weeks he’s really built into the year. He’s got better and better with every game and us as a footy team have got better over that time.

“I thought our first 40 minutes was as good if not better than any 40 this year.

“It got a bit messy in the second half with the disruption we had and, to Leeds’ credit, they defended quite well in that second half.”

Another England forward, Morgan Knowles, scored two of Saints’ seven tries against a tired-looking Leeds to claim their biggest win of the season, which earns them a week off and a home tie in the semi-finals.

“We wanted to make sure we got second spot and a better sort of passage,” Woolf said. “We get the chance to freshen up and get ready for the second week, which is important.”

The only disappointment for the champions was the loss of second-rower Sione Mata’utia with an ankle injury but Woolf expects him to be back for the semi-final and says centre Mark Percival has fully recovered from a head knock and could play against Salford next Friday.

The Rhinos’ heaviest defeat of the season means their bid for a play-off spot will now go down to the final round of the regular season, when they host Hull KR, and coach Richard Agar insists they will be ready.

“We’re disappointed but not going to carry it with us, it’s about next week now,” Agar said.

“We’ve had some tough challenges all year and we’re not going to let a tough 40 minutes derail us.

“We’ve still got an awful lot to play for. We will learn from that and next week we’ll have a big game on. We need to win three games to get to a Grand Final.”

The Rhinos were without 11 senior players after second-rower James Donaldson fell ill on the day of the game and Agar admits they could not have made a worst start.

“Our start to the game was really poor,” he said. “We were rabbits in the headlights.

“We really struggled with their big fellas through the middle. We had a lot of trouble with Alex Walmsley.

“Our main concern was that we weren’t playing as a team, it was all individual stuff and the ruck speed got way too quick.

“We simply no answer to it early doors, when we struggled to get out of our own end.

“In the second half our defensive effort was a lot better but obviously the game had well and truly gone long before that.”

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