FOUR WINS from four is Leeds Rhinos’ best start to a Super League season since 2009, but in-form centre Kallum Watkins reckons the challenges are about to get tougher.
Rhinos, who hit back from 12-0 down at the break to win 43-12 away to Hull last week, visit Warrington Wolves in four days’ time, followed by a home clash with Wigan Warriors and then a trip to Catalans Dragons.
Watkins said: “With the new set-up it’s important to get a good start, because getting into the top-eight is crucial.
“A lot of the games have been pretty tight and intense and the whole competition will be like that. It is a challenge for every team in the comp.
“We are happy with the start we’ve made, but we’re still looking to improve and to work on the things we need to work on.
“We haven’t had a full 80-minute performance yet and we are always looking to get better.
“We’ve got some big games coming up and this is a really tough month for us. We have to stay focused, train well and perform well when we get out on the field.”
Looking back on last Thursday’s turnaround, Watkins said: “It was pretty crazy. Hull were great in the first half. They controlled the ball well and that was our problem, we couldn’t keep hold of it. When we did have it we were tired from defending all the time.
“We defended well at times, especially in the first half – there could have been more points to Hull, but we kept it to 12. We were confident going into the second half that we could go on and do a job and it was nice that we could run in a few tries, very nice tries as well.”
Of the half-time talk, Watkins said: “We knew we weren’t at our best in terms of decision-making and ball-handling, but that happens in a game.
“We went in at half-time and we were were very settled. We knew we could go on and win it, we just had to be better with the ball and continue what we were doing defensively. We certainly showed that in the second half, how good we were with the ball.”
Watkins’ powerful running and smart footwork opened Hull up several times in the second half and continued his good start to the season. He reflected:
“I am happy with the way I’m going, but I always want to improve and to train hard.
“I love coming into work and I love the banter with the lads and working hard as well. That’s how our culture is, enjoy yourself while you’re at work, but work hard as well and the benefits will come out. You can see that over the past four games.
“My focus is the team – sometimes you don’t get as much ball as you want, but it’s a team game and when I do get the ball I want to make the most of it, but when the team’s playing well that’s even better.”
Watkins had a shorter pre-season than most of his clubmates due to duty in last autumn’s Four Nations, but he said: “I got a month’s break and it was good to spend time with my family. I did feel refreshed. Pre-season was tough, most of the lads were in from November and I was very fortunate to get some time off and come back just after Christmas. It was a short time in terms of that, but it was tough and enjoyable.
“We wanted to improve from last year and we’re looking great at the moment.”
Coach Brian McDermott has fielded the same starting 13 in all four Super League games so far, but Watkins predicted: “That will change. People are going to get injured and players will come in. We’ve got players on dual-reg at Hunslet and the young players are really showing up well in training, so when an opportunity comes I’m sure they will take it with both hands.”