TOMORROW’S SUPER League kick-off can’t come soon enough for Leeds Rhinos centre Kallum Watkins.
But the England man reckons Rhinos will need to improve areas of their game from last year, when they completed an historic treble of Challenge Cup, League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final victories.
The First Utility Super League round one visit of Warrington Wolves is the start of a new era for Rhinos, without club legends Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai.
Watkins insisted Rhinos weren’t far enough ahead of the pack last season to take more success for granted.
“I can’t wait to get going,” said the 24-year-old, who is preparing for his ninth season in Super League.
“Pre-season has been very good, very tough and this year is a new challenge for us.
“We only just got there last year – there were certain moments that could have gone either way.
“Obviously we can reflect on last year, but that has gone now.
“Our focus is to start very well. We have focused all pre-season on what we need to improve on and if we do that we will give ourselves the best chance of getting off to a good start.”
England back-rower Brett Ferres and former Australian Test prop Keith Galloway are expected to make their competitive Rhinos debut tomorrow.
Australian hooker Beau Falloon has also been named in Leeds’ initial 19, despite being a major doubt due to a toe injury sustained in training.
Ireland international Anthony Mullally has recovered from a damaged foot suffered against New Zealand last October and is set to make his comeback on Sunday, when Rhinos’ under-19s and fringe players travel to Kingstone Press One side Doncaster.
None of those new signings have won a major honour and Watkins said Rhinos’ squad is as hungry and determined as it has ever been.
“We are a team that want the best out of everything,” he said.
“We are a new team now and some very experienced players have gone.
“We knew that day would come, but they were a huge influence and a big part of our success.
“We have got to move on now and it is good that other players have had experience of success.
“It is a challenge to push on, but, hopefully, we can do that.”
Tomorrow’s visitors finished sixth last year, but beat Rhinos at Headingley and HJ Stadium in the regular Super League rounds.
Former Leeds boss Tony Smith has strengthened his squad and Watkins observed: “They have recruited well and they will be rejuvenated.
“They have got some real talent in their team. They didn’t do as well as they could have last year, which is a shame because they are a very good club that want to be successful.
“Their team this year looks very good and it is important for both teams to get off to a good start, so it is certainly going to be a big battle.”