Kallum Watkins’ impending exit from Leeds Rhinos is a ‘business decision’ says Richard Agar

Captain Kallum Watkins’ impending exit from Leeds Rhinos has been described as a “business decision” by interim coach Richard Agar.

By Peter Smith
Monday, 3rd June 2019, 7:30 pm
Updated Monday, 3rd June 2019, 8:30 pm
Kallum Watkins.
Kallum Watkins.

The 28-year-old England centre will leave Rhinos at the end of this season after he and the club agreed a release from his contract which was due to expire at the end of 2021.

Watkins decided to move on after Rhinos asked him to accept reduced terms for the final two years of his existing deal.

Kallum Watkins is tackled by Wigan's Joe Bullock and Sean O'Loughlin.

His shock availability will send a host of clubs, both in Betfred Super League and Australia’s NRL, scrambling to secure his signature, but Agar insisted the player remains part of Rhinos’ plans for the rest of 2019.

“When we all start playing sport we play it for the love of it and when you get to this level, unfortunately, the business element of it comes in,” Agar said. “While I’ve not been part of the process on either side in terms of the reasoning and the whys and what fors, I guess it’s very much on both sides a business decision.

“It is a blow for us to lose a player of his quality but, in a salary-cap sport, sometimes decisions like this – which on an emotional level can be really painful – are made.”

Agar added: “He has handled everything immaculately and his leadership in these trying times, over the last two or three weeks, has been terrific in what has obviously been a difficult and challenging time for him, given a bit of this has been going on in the background.

Leeds' Kallum Watkins with James Donaldson after the victory over London at Magic Weekend.

“He has spoken to the boys and reaffirmed what we already knew – his commitment to us as coaches and his commitment to the playing group and that he will be working his hardest to get us out of this situation and make sure he leaves on a really positive note.”

Watkins, who made his debut in 2008, is a three-time Grand Final winner and twice a Challenge Cup champion. And Agar said: “The club have had 12 years’ service from him. He has been here through a golden period which history will judge as one of the best in the history of a great club and any club in the game.

“He has been a part of that so I don’t think his legacy or his status will ever come into question.

“Everybody knows there’s a lot of humility about Kallum and he just wants to do his best from here on in. He has explained that while he is going at the end of the year he is committed. He doesn’t know at this moment in time which road he will go down, but I guess he will be inundated with offers.

“For him it is a new and exciting challenge at this stage of his career.”

The emergence of 19-year-old England academy star Harry Newman means Rhinos will not have to recruit a replacement centre.

The path is now clear for Newman to sign a new contract and Agar said: “With a bit of luck, if Harry Newman can step up to the plate there is a pathway for him.

“If his career can be half as successful and productive as Kallum’s he will have done a really good job.”

In a club statement, Watkins described his release an “incredibly tough decision for me to arrive at, especially as I was happy to remain at the club for the remainder of my contract”.

But he added: “This is an agreement that suits myself and the club. I am 28 and looking forward to a new challenge whether in Super League or abroad and I wish the club all the best for the years ahead.”

Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield paid tribute to his former team-mate, who has scored 101 tries in 256 appearances for Leeds, hailing him as “one of the greatest talents this club has produced”.

Meanwhile, Rhinos are close to completing the signing of forward Alex Mellor from Huddersfield Giants on a contract beginning next season.