KALLUM Watkins admits it would be “huge” for England to secure victory over New Zealand – and replicate something he last witnessed as a fan.
The Leeds Rhinos centre was an excited schoolboy sitting in the stands the last time New Zealand played a full Test series on these shores.
He watched as Great Britain, with his future Leeds team-mates Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock and Keith Senior all featuring, inflicted an emphatic 44-0 second Test rout of the Kiwis at Hull FC’s KC Stadium in 2007, sealing a first series win in 14 years.
Fast forward eight years and Watkins will be in the England side that tackles New Zealand at the same venue on Sunday.
No-one expects the same scoreline – this Kiwis vintage is ranked number one in the world and are Four Nations champions – but the prospect has evoked plenty of memories for the regal Leeds centre.
“I was playing Under-18s that year (2007) with Leeds so had watched us win the Grand Final and then did go over to that one game at Hull,” recalled Watkins, who debuted with Rhinos the following campaign.
“Rob (Burrow) got player of the series, I think, but that was me as a fan and still watching players I’d watched for years, playing as a Great Britain side and beating the Kiwis. They are experiences I wanted to be part of and the opportunity’s come now so I’m looking forward to it.
“Going back in the day as a kid, I watched a lot of the Test series against Australia and New Zealand. For me, it’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to it; it will be a huge challenge having to play the Kiwis three times in a row.”
Of course, since 2007, with Great Britain splitting into the home countries, the international calendar has only ever read World Cups and Four Nations until now so it is a new prospect for many of the side.
England, even considering yesterday’s setback when it was announced Sam Tomkins would miss the entire series due to a knee injury, are quietly confident of achieving success.
Watkins, fresh from helping Leeds win an historic treble this term, knows a series victory would be significant, especially as England have suffered agonisingly close exits from last year’s Four Nations and the 2013 World Cup at the Kiwis’ hands.
And a relatively inexperienced Leeds side gave the tourists a fright in last Friday’s warm-up game at Headingley.
“They did themselves very proud,” added Watkins, the Super League champions leading on the hour before falling 34-16.
“That shows the season we have had at the club. The young fellas worked hard throughout the year, and they had opportunities around the back end as we have had injuries, so they will get experience out of that match. They tested New Zealand out and got a lot of joy but tired in the end and New Zealand showed their class.
“There’s always going to be certain things we can exploit though, and we like to think we’re really good on the ball, good at supporting, which helps and you saw that throughout the first half.
“New Zealand were going to be a bit rusty. The were in the same position as us (England) – they had to gel pretty quickly. But we won’t read too much into that ahead of Sunday; the atmosphere and intensity will be whole different ball game.”