CONFIDENCE has been pinpointed as the key to Kallum Watkins’ outstanding form for Leeds Rhinos.
The centre, who produced a storming display in the 49-10 drubbing of Warrington Wolves three days ago, shrugged off speculation he could be a contender for this year’s Man of Steel award, but said learning to back himself has taken his game to a new level.
“Confidence-wise, it’s very high at the moment,” said the England star, who has scored 87 tries in 151 games for Leeds. “That comes from how the team is playing, which is helping me. That’s how it is sometimes, but I need to keep going and keep playing well and playing with confidence.
“That’s a thing I’ve probably struggled with in the past, but having that confidence and backing myself a bit more, things happen – and the team are playing great at the moment and that’s helping.”
Watkins’ right-side combination with Tom Briscoe is proving a lethal weapon for Rhinos, with the pair having bagged seven tries between them in the three games since the winger returned from major shoulder surgery. Watkins said: “I was playing with Ash [Handley] for a while and getting used to playing with him, but I felt comfortable with Tom pretty quickly last year, so it was quite easy for him to fit back in. Tom is doing great at the moment, he’s scoring a few tries and finding his feet and that’s giving him great confidence to continue playing well.”
Watkins’ touchdown against Warrington was his 16th of the season. Rhinos’ leading try scorer, two ahead of Ryan Hall, he said: “I’m happy with that, I am getting the opportunities and backing myself and that’s helping me get over the line and with the team playing well, that’s a massive help. I’m pleased with how I’m going at the moment.”
From a team point of view, Watkins reckons Rhinos sent out a message to their title rivals with the eight-try demolition of a side who had beaten them home and away earlier in the season.
“It was important we did that,” he said. They had beaten us twice in the league and we needed to make a statement. We certainly did that and full credit to the boys, especially the forwards. I have to mention Zak (Hardaker) as well, I thought he was outstanding.
“He was incredible, like he has been all year and the team are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment. We need to keep that up, there’s still things to do.
“The challenge is maintaining this form. Getting into the Super-8s it is going to get more intense and teams are going to get more desperate to get into the top-four. It is going to be very difficult and in every game you are going to get put under pressure. It’s how you react to that and how you cope that counts. We are coping very well at the moment.”
Leeds face another team who have beaten them twice this year, Wigan Warriors, at Headingley in four days’ time. A win then would be a huge stride towards the league leaders’ shield and Watkins said: “It is a massive game, it always is against Wigan.
“They got a great result against Huddersfield last week and they’ll take great confidence from that. But we performed well on Friday and we’ll take that on board and take that into this week.”
The gloss was taken off the win over Warrington when Paul Aiton left the field late in the match with a suspected broken arm, which could rule him out for six weeks.
“He has been outstanding for us all year – and you couldn’t meet a nicer person,” Watkins said. “It is always a shame when someone gets injured and I feel for Paul, because he’s had a great year. We will certainly miss him.”