ROOKIE MARKSMAN Kallum Watkins is ready to handle the pressure when Leeds Rhinos face Castleford Tigers in the Betfred Super League Grand Final.
Both last week’s play-offs were won on goal kicks and – with a close contest expected between the competition’s top-two teams – it could be the same this evening.
Tigers’ Luke Gale is a specialist kicker and just five goals short of equalling Sammy Lloyd’s 40-year-old Castleford record of 158 in a season. Watkins’ first goal for Leeds came in the final game of last year and he began the campaign as their fourth choice.
He has landed 48 successful kicks in Super League and with an 84.21 per cent success rate – slightly better than Gale’s 82.71 – he has no fears over taking the job tonight. He stressed: “I’ll try not to think about it too much.
“It is a big responsibility, but being relaxed about it is the important thing. That has worked for me and I am not going to change it with a huge game ahead of us. I’ll focus on other parts of my game as well, the goal kicking is not the main focal point. There’s other important things to think about and for me it is all about the team and about performing well, then as an individual just playing well with ball in hand and in defence as well.”
This evening will be Watkins’ third Grand Final. He said: “It’s a special stadium and a special occasion.
“As a kid, watching the Grand Finals in the past made me want to become a rugby league player. Getting to a Grand Final was the dream and 2012 was a huge one for me, playing in one for the first time and winning it as well.
“It never loses its magic. I am really excited and excited for the lads as well. We have gone under the radar a bit this year with the other teams doing so well.
“They have got a lot of recognition and rightly so, they deserve it, but it has been quite good for us because there’s not been that much pressure on us. This year has been really good, we’ve learned from last year and to have the opportunity to go to Old Trafford is a huge achievement.”
Watkins is happy for Tigers to be favourites this evening, but warned: “I think they will take it with both hands.” He added: “They have been so consistent this year. There is added pressure to get to the final when you are top of the table, but they have done it. We know we’re going to come up against the best of them, but for us it is an opportunity to perform the best we can. The last few weeks we’ve been pretty consistent and that has helped in terms of our momentum. We had a good win last week and we’re really excited and looking forward to it.”