England centre Kallum Watkins has been confirmed as Leeds Rhinos’ new captain.
Watkins, 26, made his Rhinos debut 10 years ago and played under previous skippers Kevin Sinfield and Danny McGuire.
He is a three-time Grand Final champion and has played in two Challenge Cup final victories, but was also a member of Leeds’ 2016 team which battled against relegation in the middle-eights Qualifiers.
Watkins described his appointment as “a massive honour and a real privilege” and he stressed: “I have learned from the best and I have gained a lot of experience from the big games I have been involved in.
“Having played alongside people who lead from the front - like Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock, Danny McGuire, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Rob Burrow to name just a few - I have learned and developed as a man and a player.
“The tough times back in 2016 made me more of a leader within the group. There was inevitably a hole in terms of leaders within the squad because of the people who left and the senior players who were unavailable due to injuries.
“We needed the younger players to step up during that season, we did struggle and it reflected in our performances.
“But when you look back on it now, we all knew we needed to improve as players. 2017 was a big season for me and I received a lot of help from those players who had developed from the previous year and that means we are confident about a bright future here with a group of players who are developing as men and as leaders.”
Watkins added: ““Being a leader was probably not something that came to me naturally initially, but it is something I have grown into and now relish.
“I feel I have earned that by being myself. I think being captain will make me stronger.
I have learned from the best and I have gained a lot of experience from the big games I have been involved in.Leeds Rhinos’ new captain, Kallum Watkins
“Having the desire to lead from the front helped me across the board throughout last season.
“It is a massive responsibility, but for me it is just about being myself. I have always wanted to improve as a player and help improve as a team together.
“For me to be successful, I have to be playing at my best and I believe being captain of this great team gives me that opportunity
“I am not going to be saying a lot of things just because I feel like I have to say something.
“When you watch the great leaders we have been fortunate to have in our dressing room, you soon learn that what you say is more important than how much you say.
“I hope I can be a calming presence in the locker room and I know I am not on my own because we have so many leaders within the group.”
Watkins is Leeds’ seventh permanent captain since summer rugby began in 1996.
“Kev did a magnificent job as captain, especially taking on that responsibility when he was so young,” he said.
“He did it for a long time and then was followed by Danny. It was tough for Danny in that first season, but 2017 showed that he always leads from the front, especially in the biggest of games.
“It is huge for me having come through the system, knowing the Leeds way and the expectations that come with pulling on that blue and amber jersey.
“I won’t be doing anything different from what has got me here in the first place and, as always here at the Rhinos, it is all about winning with these guys, that is my main target for 2018.”
Rhinos - who face Castleford Tigers in a pre-season game at the Jungle on Sunday - begin their Betfred Super League campaign at Warrington Wolves on Thursday, February 1.
They face Hull KR at Elland Road seven days later before a World Club Challenge clash with Melbourne Storm in Australia on Friday, February 16.
“We have got a big start to the season,” Watkins said.
“It has been great to be in pre-season with the lads. The first round is a huge game for us to get us on the front foot.
“To travel to Warrington first up, a venue where we have not been at our best in recent years, is a big challenge and we know we need to perform.
“Going to Elland Road is a great opportunity for the Hull KR game whilst the redevelopment is going on at Emerald Headingley.
“It is always fantastic to play there having been involved in a couple of World Club Challenges there.
“The atmosphere is always fantastic. It will be strange playing against Magsy having played alongside him for 10 years and we know the qualities he has.
“He is a fantastic player and always has been since he first pulled on that Leeds shirt. He is now going to be doing the same for Hull KR and I think he is a fantastic signing for them.
“Playing against him will be a real challenge for us. The World Club Challenge is the game we all wanted, especially Down Under on Melbourne’s own doorstep.
“I heard about the game when I was in Melbourne for the World Cup and it immediately got me excited.
“It is massive challenge for us, but we need to believe that we can go out there and do the job.
“We are going have challenges, but if we can deal with that, apply ourselves as best as we can and come up with a game plan to worry the Storm then we give ourselves a chance of making history.”
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott said Watkins was an “obvious choice” to take over from McGuire.
“The captaincy of this great club is a big task,” he said.
“When you look across our group, whilst there are those who have leadership qualities, Kallum is a fantastic candidate who has stood up to be counted over the last 18 months and was an obvious choice for 2018.
“When I told the group that Kallum would be our new captain, the squad were really happy and confident that Kallum will get the job done.
“The Leeds captaincy is not an issue many Leeds coaches have had to deal with down the years because of the long and outstanding leadership that Kevin Sinfield provided us with.
“His record speaks for itself, but I would also pay tribute to the job Danny McGuire did in the last two years. Being the next captain after Kevin was always going to be a sizeable task, but Danny handled it magnificently on all occasions.
“Kallum has emerged under those two inspirational leaders and he showed his best when things were at their hardest.
“That is why I had no hesitation in making him our captain for 2018 and I know he will lead our team with distinction.”