Alex Walmsley hailed Luke Thompson as the best prop in the world - and now wants to lead Great Britain into battle alongside him.
Thompson became the first front rower to win the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match since Andy Platt in 1992 after a lung-busting stint at Old Trafford.
Thompson played the first 72 minutes of the game unbroken - virtually unheard of for a prop in a major game in the modern era - before eventually succumbing to cramp. By that time he had clocked up 27 carries, 188 metres, 42 tackles and three tackle busts to help lead Saints to a seventh Super League title.
Walmsley also played a huge part in the win, particularly in the dominant opening quarter, and the pair are expected to be named together in Monday’s Lions squad to tour New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Walmsley said: “He’s the best front rower in the world for me and he’s been a delight to play alongside.
“I saw him step up last year and do what he did and we all knew that was in his locker. To do 70 minutes straight in a Grand Final, tell me another front rower in the game that can do that.
“It’s the toughest position to play, so for him to do that and to such a high standard, not let his standard drop for any minute in the game - what a player.
“I hope we play together for Great Britain now. I’m sure Thommo will be in, hopefully I can sneak I alongside him as well. But we’ll enjoy these couple of days first, it’s been five years in the making.”
Walmsley was part of the last St Helens side to win a Grand Final in 2014, just two years after rocketing from obscurity via Championship Batley.
He said: “At 21/22 I was playing on Saturdays in front of 200 people for Dewsbury Celtic, places that looked like a farmer’s field.
“Then 2014 was a shock because I was only 18, 24 months from being an amateur and I don’t think I’d earned my stripes then. This is my seventh year at Saints now and it’s the pinnacle of my career so far.”
Walmsley created the game’s opening try for Morgan Knowles and Justin Holbrook’s side look set to cruise home when Zeb Taia touched down.
But Salford - whose remarkable progression to the Grand Final has provided Super League with one of its great storylines - hit back through Jake Bibby, and it needed a second half Mark Percival try to seal St Helens’ win.
Holbrook now heads to Gold Coast Titans and Walmsley added: “He’s a remarkable person and coach and we’ll miss him sorely. He’s improved us all as players but he’s made us better people as well."