IT HAS already been an historic year for Leeds Rhinos’ England centre Kallum Watkins, but he is now one win away from it becoming even better.
Watkins was a member of the Rhinos team which completed the treble of domestic honours, lifting the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup, First Utility Super League leaders’ shield and Grand Final trophy.
He also featured for England in their 26-12 first Test win over New Zealand two days ago and victory at London’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday or in the final Test at Wigan a week later would seal a rare series success.
“It would mean the world to me,” Watkins said of the prospect of a series win over the sport’s top-ranked team. “This year has been great and it is a dream for me to be playing for my country, that is something I have dreamed of for a long time.
“To get off to a good start was great for us, but we know we have to improve going into this week’s game.
“They [New Zealand] will be going for it and obviously trying to get themselves back into the Test series.
“We have to start better than we did [on Sunday]. We didn’t match them physically and they got on top of us a bit, but we came back from that, which shows the character in our team.
“There is obviously work to do, but we were very pleased with how we performed, especially in the second half.”
The Kiwis led 10-0 early on and were 12-6 ahead before England clicked into gear, scoring 20 unanswered points either side of the break.
New Zealand, who are missing several first-choice players through injury, were on a six-game winning run in international matches and had not lost to England since 2011.
Watkins said the way England bounced back from their poor start highlighted the spirit in the camp.
But he admitted to fearing the worst in the opening exchanges.
“It was a great win for us,” Watkins added.
“It was a bit scary at the start, we didn’t start too well, but full credit to the guys; they showed great attitude getting ourselves back into it.
“Then in the second half the forwards took over, which was great to see and we were very happy with the win.
“We were very happy with how we played, especially in the second half.
“We picked it up and it was important to do that. The lads were superb and the second half was pretty special.”
Watkins paid tribute to England’s pack, who scored all their four tries with substitute second-rower Brett Ferres crossing twice to separate touchdowns from hooker Josh Hodgson and loose-forward Sean O’Loughlin.
“That’s great to see,” Watkins said.
“A huge factor in the game was the bench; the substitutes did a fantastic job when they came on and that helped us turn things around.
“After half an hour we started to get a feel of the game, we started to move quickly and they got a little bit tired.
“The forwards were a huge factor in our performances.
“We – the backs – would like to have scored some tries, but sometimes that happens, especially when you have got a lot of momentum going forward.
“The forwards made the most of their opportunities and they did a top job.”