Rare chance: England can book their place in the Four Nations final tomorrow and Kallum Watkins tells Dave Craven he’s confident they can.
CONFIDENT Kallum Watkins has urged his England team-mates to utilise their “attacking flair” against an under-strength Australia tomorrow and make history in the process.
The Leeds Rhinos centre is sure to be a key threat in Melbourne as Steve McNamara’s side seek to secure their place in the Four Nations final and knock-out the struggling Kangaroos at the same time.
The world champions have, by their standards, endured a rare difficult week since being convincingly outplayed by New Zealand last Saturday and are in danger of missing a first major final for the first time since 1954.
In contrast, England – or Great Britain – have not won a notable tournament or Ashes series since lifting the 1972 World Cup.
Their hopes of success will increase significantly if they can eliminate tomorrow’s rivals with likely opponents in the November 15 final being New Zealand, a side they traditionally play well against.
Watkins, whose electric pace and footwork can cause the depleted Aussies no end of problems if given the right service, admitted: “It has been a long time and it’d be an honour to be able to help end that record.
“It’d be really pleasing for the English game, massive for Super League and, with the personnel we have, we know we can do this.
“We need to do the basics right, be disciplined and show our attacking flair. “The end result is a place in the final and any win over Australia will give us a big boost for that, too.”
England have a terrific opportunity to really mix-up the world order for once and the Australians, so used to qualifying for the showpieces at ease, are under mounting pressure.
Already without a dozen regular players through injuries, suspensions and departures, Tim Sheens’ problems are starting to test the old theory that the Kangaroos could always field three different teams all good enough to beat their old rivals.
Sheens himself has been struck down by a bug and has kept himself away from his squad towards the back end of the week to avoid any further turmoil.
That will not help their planning and with stand-off Daly Cherry-Evans sure to be far less than 100 per cent after leaving the Kiwi debacle with a hip injury, England will surely sense some vulnerability.
The Aussie public is demanding of their heroes and there is obvious pressure to perform given they have not lose successive Tests since losing back-to-back against France in 1978.
“There has been stuff said over here and I guess they are under pressure,” added Watkins, who wins his 10th cap having scored his seventh Test try in the victory over Samoa.
“It’s not too often Australia have that but they have now.
“Yet I haven’t paid too much notice to it all.
“We’ve just focused on what we’re doing. We still have a job to do to come up with the right result.
“A lot of hard work has been put in during training as last week wasn’t up to scratch.
“We did what we had to win and that’s a big positive but we know we have to be better against Australia. We have a chance now to do that.
“We’ve certainly done that in training but now we need to do it on the field. It’s the time.”
Australia feel it is the time to give Sione Mata’utia his Test debut even though, at just 18 years and 130 days old, the rookie winger replaces Israel Folau as the youngest ever Kangaroo to do so.
For all his undoubted talent, the fact his bow comes after just seven National Rugby League games with Newcastle Knights means England will surely target him heavily tomorrow and try to make the teenager squirm.
But Watkins – a relative veteran at 23 – expects the newcomer to be confident and added: “To be fair, at a young age you are going to be really enthusiastic and want to go out and play at the top level.
“You have to take a chance like that with both hands and we have to prepare as though he has no fear and will play to his best.
“I’m really looking forward to the challenge of facing him if that happens and it is great for him at such a young age and having hardly played any NRL games.”
In a week where Watkins’s ex-England team-mate Sam Burgess was unveiled amid mass media hype as a Bath player, it was timely by Leeds to announce his new five-year deal to stay at Headingley.
It is a significant fillip for the sport here; there were opportunities to move to the NRL where an increasing number of his England colleagues are based, and rumoured interest from union, too.
Watkins, who has won a Grand Final, Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge since coming through Leeds’ Academy ranks, admitted: “There was a bit of temptation and you have to take that into consideration. But there wasn’t much.
“I thought about it but realised I am happy where I am and my family is, too.
“I’ve been really impressed with the kids coming through at Leeds over the last couple of seasons and the future there is bright.
“There will be a period where the experienced lads are going to retire at some stage and it will be a tough transition,” he said.
“To be a part of that is a challenge in itself but one I’m looking forward to and there’s plenty of reasons to stay in league.”