THEY may be at opposite ends of the experience scale, but centre Kallum Watkins and prop Ben Cross are united in believing Leeds Rhinos can and will improve.
Watkins came off the bench in last Sunday’s season-opening 32-28 win over Bradford Bulls, providing the final pass for two of his winger Ben Jones-Bishop’s three tries as Leeds hit back from 18 points down with less than a quarter of the game left.
That was the 19-year-old’s first competitive match since suffering anterior cruciate ligament damage – leading to a knee reconstruction – in a defeat at Huddersfield Giants last March.
He accepted Rhinos were below their best, but feels with 80 hard minutes under their belt, they will be a different side in tonight’s tough round two fixture at Hull.
“We were a bit down on things,” Watkins admitted. “But hopefully we can improve this week and put things right.
“We were a bit too eager at times, but I think if we put everything together, things will come off for us and we can get a good win there.
“A couple of times we tried a few moves we’ve rarely practised in pre-season. Some of them didn’t come off, but some of them did and we scored some really good tries – hard work from fast play-the-balls and good support play.”
Tonight’s KC Stadium clash comes two days after Rhinos announced Watkins’ new contract, keeping him at the club until the end of 2014.
“It is good for myself and my family and the club as well, just to settle my future,” he said.
“I love it here. I love the club and the culture around Leeds – and just to be playing rugby again is tremendous.
“I just want to get as many games as I can and be as successful as I can with the team.”
Meanwhile, 32-year-old Cross is a major doubt for tonight’s game after being taken ill yesterday.
Coach Brian McDermott will give him until this afternoon before making a decision.
But Cross reckons Rhinos will be stronger for last week’s experience.
“It is character building, that sort of game,” said the former Newcastle Knights forward. “We fought back really well.
“You never want to get 18 points down, but if you can come back and snatch a victory out of that it gives you a lot of confidence.
“We wouldn’t want to be doing it so early in the season, but we will get better. We didn’t go too far wrong in a lot of things we did (last week).
“We just need to get our defence sorted – which wasn’t too bad at times I thought – and stick to our game plan.”
Cross added: “At this stage of the season you will take every two points you can.
“We were fortunate enough to get the two when a few other teams missed out.
“We will take that. Come the back end of the season, these early rounds are the ones that can build your season and get you into the top-four at the end.”
Sunday was Cross’ first experience of engage Super League. He stated: “I have played two trials – which obviously aren’t the same standard – and the game was pretty much what I expected.
“It is a bit more free-flowing with the ball than back home. I am still learning the interpretation of the ruck and once I get a grasp of that I’ll be all right.”
Of Hull, he predicted: “They will be a good team and I am sure they will be up for the game.
“I know Mark O’Mealey and Craig Fitzgibbon and any team with them is going to be tough.
“Fitzy plays 80 minutes and puts his body on the line every week, so if they can follow his example they will be all right.”
Ryan Bailey – who has been struggling with a groin problem – was named in Rhinos’ initial 19 on Wednesday but was set to be withdrawn today after failing to recover.
Chris Clarkson could be drafted in.
Former Crusaders back-rower Weller Hauraki will make his Rhinos debut tonight after finally receiving his visa three days ago.
Paul McShane and Lee Smith, who has had a hamstring injury, are also included in the 19 after not featuring in last weekend’s team.
Ali Lauitiiti (cut mouth) is sidelined and there is no place for Jay Pitts, who will play for the under-20s against Hull at Hull Ionians tomorrow (2.30pm).
Hull coach Richard Agar selects from the 17 who lost to Hull KR last week, plus Sam Obst – signed this week from Wakefield – and Danny Washbrook.
Hull from: Whiting, Sharp, Briscoe, Yeaman, Lyne, Turner, Long, O’Meley, Houghton, Radford, Manu, Tickle, Fitzgibbon, Dowes, Moa, Lauaki, Westerman, Obst, Washbrook.
Leeds Rhinos from: Webb, Jones-Bishop, Delaney, Senior, Hall, Sinfield, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Cross, Jones-Buchanan, Hauraki, Ablett, Burgess, Kirke, Watkins, Smith, Bailey/ Clarkson, McShane.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.