ENGLAND WINGER Jermaine McGillvary paid tribute to his centre, Kallum Watkins, ahead of today’s Ladbrokes Four Nations showdown with New Zealand (2.30pm).
McGillvary – of Huddersfield Giants – has played against Watkins and was alongside the Leeds Rhinos ace when England won in France last weekend.
McGillvary – who had a spell with Batley Bulldogs early in his career – reckons his centre will be a key man for the hosts over the next four weekends.
“He’s a quality player,” McGillvary said of Watkins.
“When you look at him, his athleticism, those crazy feet and such great skill... he’s brilliant.
“His defence is great as well and he’s helped me loads there by playing outside him.
“We’ve built up a good partnership and we’ll be looking to do our business on Saturday to get us a win and maybe score some tries and stop some, too.”
England’s other winger today will be Leeds’ Ryan Hall, who impressed in Saturday’s 40-6 warm-up success in Avignon.
“Hally got another two last week as well and he’s a world-class winger who has proved that so often,” McGillvary said.
Watkins, Hall and McGillvary have all been named in coach Wayne Bennett’s initial 19-man squad for today despite playing for bottom-four clubs this year.
McGillvary admitted: “It was bad for us this season at Huddersfield. Everyone knows that. It wasn’t ideal. Personally, I’d play some good games, but some bad ones, too, but I think Wayne has picked me for what I did last season, too.
“Some people have said he’s only picked two wingers so I’ll be in the side, but I don’t see it like that.
“I see there’s plenty of others who could play on the wing so I’ve still been on my toes in training trying to do my best to cement a spot for this game at Huddersfield.”
The Giants man is relishing playing at his home stadium today.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s always an honour to play for your country, but on your home ground in your home town against the number one rated team in the world New Zealand... it’s really exciting.”
McGillvary made his Test debut in last year’s third Test victory over the Kiwis which clinched a series win for England.
“I got cramp in my toes in the last few minutes of that match,” he recalled.
“I couldn’t put my foot flat on the pitch. I’ve never been in that situation ever before or since, but that just showed how tough a Test it was; my body had started to pack in
“It was probably the toughest game I’ve ever played in, but such happy, proud memories, winning the match and the series on my debut.”
Today’s victors will be favourites to meet Australia in the final at Liverpool FC’s Anfield three weeks tomorrow.
McGillvary, a boyhood Liverpool fan and former semi-professional footballer with Emley, insisted England are capable of winning the tournament. “Of course,” he said.
“If we are not confident, why would we bother? There’s a big belief throughout our changing room – squad and staff – that we can get this job done. There’s some great players in there who believe in each other, but we have to go out there and prove it. I’m confident we will.”