Hot to trot: in-form centre Kallum Watkins seems to have upped his game on the back of the Rugby League 2013 World Cup. Peter Smith reports.
THE DISAPPOINTMENT of England’s 2013 World Cup campaign has made Kallum Watkins a better player, says the in-form Rhinos centre.
Watkins played in all five of England’s matches during last autumn’s tournament, including the agonising last-gasp semi-final loss to New Zealand at Wembley.
Since returning to club rugby Watkins has stepped up to another level and has been almost unstoppable in Rhinos’ three First Utility Super League fixtures so far, scoring one try and having a hand in four of the five run in by his winger Tom Briscoe.
That is impressive form for a player who had only a one-month pre-season following on from England duty and he reckons he is feeling the benefits of his first big international tournament.
“I am pretty happy with how I am playing and the team are playing well,” Watkins said.
“That is helping me a lot in my game, so I am very happy with how we’ve started.
“We are only three games in, so I just need to keep going and keep doing what I’m doing so I can help the team and help myself.
“I think I have carried on from the World Cup, going through experiences I hadn’t been through before.
“That has given me the edge to push on a bit further. Playing in the World Cup really helped me. You are playing with top, world-class players and when you represent your country it is a little bit different. I was really happy to be part of that.
“We weren’t as successful as we wanted to be, but I think most of the players got a lot out of it and I have moved on for a big season this year.”
Watkins’ right-side combination with Briscoe, the England winger brought in last autumn from Hull on a five-year deal, has proved too hot for Leeds’ three opponents so far to handle.
“It is nice to see him get over for a few tries and start his career here pretty well,” Watkins said of Briscoe, who was also a member of the World Cup squad.
“He is a strong player and a top player. When you give him opportunities or even give him just a little bit of space he can damage teams and score some really good tries.
“That’s a real benefit for us and we’ve also got competition in our backs. There’s still Bish [Ben Jones-Bishop] who hasn’t played yet, but if he gets his chance to come in he will do the exact same job as Tom is doing.”
Watkins said he and Briscoe get along on and off the field.
“He is quite quiet, pretty much like myself,” Watkins said. “He is a great bloke and very professional.
“When he goes on to the field he shows what he can do and he’s quite a happy and smiley bloke as well, which is a positive for us.
“He really wants to do well, continue to play well and hopefully continue in the England side as well.”
Along with the rest of the team, Watkins and Briscoe will face their biggest test so far tonight, away to Huddersfield Giants, another club with an outstanding back division.
Watkins said: “It will be interesting. They are coming off a poor result against Widnes last week and they’ll be wanting to bounce back and put in a good performance against us.
“Their back line is looking pretty good, they were pretty lethal last year and the likes of Leroy (Cudjoe) and Jermaine McGillvary are good, strong players. Leroy has benefited from the World Cup just like I have, so it should be an interesting battle.”
Cudjoe was England’s other centre last autumn.
Watkins said: “He is a top player and he can really damage teams. He is quite a big lad as well, his carries are damaging and defensively he is really sound. He is a really good player and he did well in the World Cup. His try against Australia was fantastic for him and I was really pleased for him. He progressed in the tournament, he had great tournament and hopefully he can have another good year.”
From a team point of view, Rhinos are looking for another win to make this their best start to a league season since 2009. “We haven’t started well for a few years,” Watkins admitted.
“We need to keep going, keep working hard in training and do the right things on and off the pitch as well.”
Meanwhile, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats coach Richard Agar is waiting to hear if Rhinos winger Ben Jones-Bishop will be joining his team on loan.
Agar said: “We have inquired about his availability as a loanee and it’s down to Ben and Leeds as to whether they think it’s a worthwhile move. I’ve asked Brian and we’ve done it at board level.”
Huddersfield Giants from: Grix, McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy, Brough, Robinson, Crabtree, Wood, Kopczak, Ferres, Chan, Lawrence, C Bailey, Faiumu, Ta’ai, Kaufusi, Broughton, Johnson.
Leeds Rhinos from: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Sinfield, Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Ward, Ablett, Delaney, Burrow, R Bailey, Clarkson, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Achurch.
Referee: James Child (Batley).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.