ENGLAND CENTRE Kallum Watkins believes Leeds Rhinos’ 2014 squad is stronger than the one which finished last season.
Hooker Paul McShane – who has joined Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – was Rhinos’ only senior departure while Wildcats No9 Paul Aiton and Hull’s England winger Tom Briscoe have both come in, alongside ex-Hunslet Hawks prop Andy Yates.
Leeds will begin their First Utility Super League campaign away to Hull KR in six days’ time.
And Watkins said: “I think the squad is stronger. The signings of Paul Aiton and Tom Briscoe are massive for us.
“They provide more competition in our squad. Players are going to have to get better on the field if they want to keep their spot.”
Rhinos will boast arguably the strongest backline in Super League this year following Briscoe’s arrival. Six world-class players are battling for five spots and Watkins admitted the competition will be fierce.
“Tom is a great player,” said Watkins, who has played alongside Briscoe for England. “He is quite quiet and he is trying to bed into our team at the moment, but we are trying the best we can to make him feel comfortable. He is working hard in training and I can’t wait to see him in a Leeds shirt in a competitive game.
“We have got some strong backs now.
“Some of the young players who have played in the backline have gone on loan, but having that extra player to add a bit of competition is good for us.
“We have to keep on improving as players and people as well. It is going to be hard for whoever doesn’t get picked, but you’ve got to keep your head down and keep working hard.
“When you get a chance you have got to make sure you take it.”
Watkins was Rhinos’ leading try scorer last term, with 20.
He missed only four games – due to an ankle injury – and is set to make his 100th appearance for Leeds in the opening home game of the campaign, against Warrington Wolves on Friday, February 21.
“I am looking forward to it, to another big season,” Watkins said. “We are looking to improve on what we did last year.
“We’ve trained hard in pre-season, as all teams have. Training has been good and we are looking forward to the season ahead.
“Every year you are a bit more hungry to succeed and be successful.
“Things didn’t go our way last year, but hopefully this season we can improve on that and manage to win it again.”
Watkins is confident Leeds will be ready to go this week, despite their England players not beginning training until early last month.
“The season has come around quickly,” he said. “Personally, I needed a rest – last year was a long year and it was nice to get a break.
“That has refreshed me personally and I’m glad to be back training.
“The season is pretty close now and I am looking forward to it.”