Leeds Rhinos: Watkins weighs up shift in priorities

Kallum Watkins.
Kallum Watkins.
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TON-UP Kallum Watkins says reaching 100 tries for Leeds Rhinos has only made him want more for the club.

The England centre reached that milestone with a crucial brace against Hull FC last week and hopes to quickly add to it when Wigan Warriors arrive at Headingley tonight.

Like many for the fallen champions, he has been far from his best this term with Leeds having tumbled from Grand Final heroes to a side stuck at the bottom of Super League.

But the display at leaders Hull, when Watkins’ late double saw them recover from 15-8 down to win 20-15, hinted not only at a triumphant return to form for the team but the player, too.

“I think it was my best game this year,” said Watkins, the Rhinos academy product rated one of the world’s best when at the peak of his powers.

“To get over the line a couple of times was great but obviously the win was the most important thing and we’ll look to back that up now against Wigan. For myself I’d be the first to say I’ve not played well enough this year.

“All I’ve wanted to do is improve in terms of the individual and team perspective.

“It’s not been great but we’re trying to build something up now and we’ve improved in the last month.

“Personally, I’m trying to get some more confidence and obviously backing myself a lot more. That showed in the last game.”

On claiming his 100th try in Leeds colours since making his debut in 2008, he conceded he had not been counting them down.

“People were bringing it up but I had a period where I wasn’t even scoring so I wasn’t even thinking about getting up to 100 tries – I was just thinking about getting over the line again!” joked Watkins. “But it was very pleasing to do that and in that manner as well, helping us win at a side who were top of the league.

“To represent this club is something special and to get that sort of landmark pushes you on to get even more. It’d be great to do that at this club.”

For all Leeds are already consigned to the Qualifiers, they are intent on heading into the Middle Eights in positive mood so are keen on picking up two more wins before the break, against Wigan tonight and then at Hull KR next Thursday.

Having beaten Hull, it would be a real sign that they are returning to their champion best if they could now beat Shaun Wane’s side who are rivalling the Airlie Birds for the League Leaders’ Shield.

“It’d be a huge message if we could beat Wigan,” admitted Watkins, who has scored eight tries in 23 outings this term.

“It’s always a big game, always a tough battle, as we’ve both been through to a lot of finals, and big-pressure games.

“This is a league game but they’re trying to push their way to the top and stay there.

“They have a few injuries but their young fellas are doing themselves proud and they’re getting the victories they need to. We go in with lot of confidence, though, and it should be an interesting one.”

Wigan, indeed, are the form team in Super League having won their last eight matches, having not been defeated since going down 30-16 at home to Hull FC on May 13.

Leeds have won three of their last four games, however, which might not seem much but in the context of this campaign is glorious.

Rallying back from that deficit at Hull was the sort of act expected of the champions but not seen too often in 2016.

Watkins, 25, admitted: “It was a great win for us in a tough game against a side who have been great this year.

“For us we’ve been improving these last few weeks and getting ourselves in games.

“The week before we didn’t finish off what we needed to do (23-22 loss to Widnes) but we learned from that. That showed at Hull. It’s hugely important. Many a time this year we’ve not finished off games we should have won and we’ve been punished for that.

“But there’s not been any kind of panic. We saw the fans last week in the home game v Widnes; we got 16,000 here showing there’s still people believing what we can do.

“Showing improvement has built that up.”

The Hull win was almost a Leeds performance of old, reminiscent of a ruthless champion side that became Super League’s most dominant force.

Watkins, who has won five Grand Finals with the club, said: “Definitely. We came up in situations where teams have led but we reeled them in in terms of momentum; we’ve got the players to get back in a game.

“This year that’s not been good enough. We’ve actually been in positions where we could have done.

“There’s been a lot of learning curves for everyone involved but last Friday was more like it.

“People might think we’ve nothing to play for but we wanted the result.

“We were disappointed the week before, losing by a point, wanted to put that right and we did.

“We know we’ve left it too late this year and we have now got to go battle on in the Qualifiers.

“But these next couple of games – Wigan and at Hull KR next Thursday – can give us some momentum as we know how tough that will be.”

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