Leeds Rhinos captain Matt Prior admits St Helens' Alex Walmsley is impossible to stop - but he can be slowed down
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Walmsley took Rhinos apart when they were beaten 40-6 at Saints 18 days ago, scoring one try and setting up several others after carving Leeds open through the middle.
Rhinos’ chance of reaching the Grand Final could hinge on containing the Dewsbury-born powerhouse, who went to university in Leeds and began his career with Batley Bulldogs.
The England prop - who has been named in this season’s Super League Dream Team - got Saints on the front foot in the opening moments and Rhinos were never able to halt his momentum, being out of the game by half-time when they trailed 28-6.
Prior will be one of the men opposite Walmsley in the middle of the field when they return to TW Stadium for a sudden-death play-off in three days’ time and admitted keeping him totally quiet is a tall order.
“He is such a great player,” Prior said,
“You probably can’t completely stop him; no matter what you do he is probably going to have a fair impact on the game.
“I guess it’s just about trying to limit what he does do.
“I guess we are coming up with a few different strategies to limit his performances so he’s not having another game like he did a few weeks back.
“Hopefully we can stop that.”
Rhinos were without big men Zane Tetevano and Mikolaj Oledzki for the previous trip to TW Stadium, but both featured in last Thursday’s hard-fought 8-0 win at Wigan Warriors in an elimination tie.
“Obviously we were missing a few the last time we played Saints,” Prior recalled.
“Having Mik and Zane back is going to be a huge help and hopefully we can slow them down a bit.
“That’s the plan.”
Oledzki missed eight games with a toe injury before his return last week and Prior reckons the 22-year-old will give Saints’ pack something to think about.
He said: “Mik has been huge for us, probably one of our best players all year.
“He is a phenomenal young guy and young talent and he has a huge future.
“He has been killing it this year and I think he’ll do the same this week.”
Another young front-rower, 20-year-old Tom Holroyd, is also beginning to make a name for himself.
A fractured leg, suffered in pre-season training, kept Holroyd on the sidelines until the end of June, but he has been in impressive form since making his comeback, particularly when Rhinos’ more experienced ‘middles’ were unavailable.
“He’s another one with a massive future ahead of him,” Prior added.
“He is tough as nails and doesn’t let anyone down.
“You know what you are going to get from him, he’s a no-nonsense type of player, which everyone wants in your team.”
At the other end of the experience scale, Prior has been captain since taking over from Luke Gale in July.
The 34-year-old Australian - an NRL Grand Final winner with St George-Illawarra in 2010 and Cronulla Sharks six years later - admitted the role is not a natural fit, but stressed: “It has been good.”
He said: “I am not the biggest speaker so I have struggled with it from time to time, but it gets me out of my comfort zone.
“It has been challenging, but it is also an opportunity for a bit of growth, so I like it.”
No Rhinos players were charged after the RFL’s match review panel studied last week’s game at Wigan.
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