Leeds Rhinos 2019: Captain Kallum Watkins relishing new centre partnership
LEEDS RHINOS’ Special K centre pairing will give opposition defence plenty to chew on this year.
Not only have Rhinos signed Tongan superstar Konrad Hurrell, but also their homegrown hero Kallum Watkins is now back fit and raring to make up for lost time.
Watkins, Rhinos’ captain, is established as one of the most devastating attacking players in the competition and his new team-mate Hurrell has the potential to become a shining star in the European game.
Rhinos’ season fell apart after Watkins suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury last May, in a Magic Weekend defeat by Castleford Tigers, but he made his comeback in his own testimonial game against the same opponents earlier this month and is ready to attack the new campaign.
“It is exciting,” Watkins said of what Rhinos’ centres offer this year.
“I think Konny has been brilliant since he’s been here.
“He is a great character – we just have to get him the ball.
“If we give Konny the ball, give it him early, he can do some damage.
“We have seen what he did in the NRL and for Tonga as well.
“He has been great for us, what he does in training and what he does off the field as well.
“He is just a great fella. That’s the same for all the new signings we’ve got, they are all great people and great players as well. That is an added bonus for our team and I am sure the fans will love them.”
Leeds also have a new-look half-back pairing with another Tongan international, Tui Lolohea, teaming up alongside last season’s player of the year Richie Myler.
Ensuring the three-quarters get opportunities to attack will be their responsibility and Watkins said: “I think those two will work together well.
“Tui is a good player and his running game as well will be dangerous for us. Richie will pick the right pass and do the controlling side of it and he will turn up for plays as well when people make breaks and do what he does best.
“That’s exciting as well.
“We’ve got players in the front-row who are keen to get into the team and young players who have been working hard.
“They are going to make it very difficult for Dave [Furner, Rhinos’ coach] to pick a team and that is a bonus because we are all competing against each other.
“You can see that in pre-season, how hard it has been. The competition is fierce and that’s what we want.”
Rhinos finished the year well behind their title rivals last season, dropping into the middle-eights Qualifiers for the second time in three years.
They have a lot of ground to make up and face a tough start with trips to Warrington Wolves, Wigan Warriors, Salford Red Devils and St Helens in their first four matches, but Watkins is optimistic new players and a change of approach behind the scenes will pay dividends.
He said: “It is an exciting time, things have changed.
“Obviously personnel has changed, but our focus is on round one. We have prepared ourselves really well and pre-season has been really good.
“It has been tough, but it has made us excited for that round-one game. We can’t wait to get out there.”