Leeds Rhinos: Captain Watkins targeting Challenge triumph

Kallum Watkins and Cameron Smith with the World Club Challenge trophy.
Kallum Watkins and Cameron Smith with the World Club Challenge trophy.
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GLOBE-TROTTING LEEDS Rhinos captain Kallum Watkins has been clocking up the air miles.

The England centre is in Australia for the third time in less than a year as Rhinos prepare for Friday’s World Club Challenge against Melbourne Storm.

Kallum Watkins touches down for England.

Kallum Watkins touches down for England.

Watkins, along with clubmate Ryan Hall, played for England in a one-off Test against Samoa last May and returned for the World Cup four months later.

England spent more than a month Down Under in their bid to win the World Cup, which ended in a 6-0 loss to Australia – skippered by Storm captain Cameron Smith – in December’s final.

In contrast, the Wall of White made the trip to and from the mid-season game – which they won 30-10 – in little more than a week and Watkins says that proves it can be done.

Rhinos are facing a similar schedule. They arrived in Melbourne last Saturday and will begin the return journey the day after the game, giving them just two field sessions – plus Thursday’s captain’s run – to prepare.

Kallum Watkins and Gary Hetherington.

Kallum Watkins and Gary Hetherington.

But the Leeds captain insisted the players are happy to take on the challenge and he reckons the potential rewards are well worth the effort.

“It is tough,” Watkins admitted of the task facing the Betfred Super League champions.

“Obviously we’re here for a short time and two of the days are travelling, but at the same time it is enjoyable and you can get a lot out of it.

“It is a new thing for us and we want to get the most out of it, that’s the big thing.

“The target is to win the World Club Challenge, which is huge. To come here and try to do it is a massive challenge for the guys and we have to take it with both hands.

“If we can do it, it’ll be great for the club.”

The game was originally due to be staged in England, but Storm, who have faced Rhinos in Leeds in three previous World Club Challenges, declined to travel.

The annual contest looked set to be cancelled, but Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington stepped in with an offer to take the team to Melbourne.

And Watkins insisted it would have been a huge disappointment not to have the chance of squaring the ledger.

Storm lead the series between the two rugby league powerhouses by two wins to one and Watkins stressed: “These are the games you want to play in.”

He added: “It is tough, travelling over for a week and then going back and carrying on with the rest of the season, but for us it is an important game and a massive game and it will be a fantastic result if we can get it.”

The odds are stacked against Rhinos, who will have to cope without four experienced front-rowers due to injury, but Watkins has taken confidence from England’s result last year.

He said: “It was a new experience, coming here for a week, but we gained a lot from it and it was a good trip. We made the most of it and that’s what we need to do this week.”

Melbourne is 11 hours ahead of the UK, so Friday’s game will kick-off at 9am British time.

Rhinos will arrive back in Leeds on Sunday and travel to Widnes Vikings – where they have lost on their last three visits – a week later.

Watkins is confident they can cope with the jetlag on Friday, but admitted the following game will be more difficult.

“After the game, going back and trying to get back into the swing of things for Super League, is going to be a challenge,” he said.

“We are playing against a fantastic side then we have to go back and get ourselves prepared for another game.

“It’s a challenge to get that right, but the staff are doing a great job.

“They are looking after us and doing everything they can to help us. You don’t get these opportunities handed to you. It is chance for the boys to do something special and it’s important we enjoy this week and the game as well.”

Betfred odds: Kallum Watkins to score his first try of the season, any time v Melbourne Storm 3/1 at Betfred.

Coverage in association with Betfred.