Leeds Rhinos: Watkins keen to end season on a high with England

Kallum Watkins in training for England.
Kallum Watkins in training for England.
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IT HAS been a long and disappointing season, but Leeds Rhinos centre Kallum Watkins wants to extend it by one more week.

Watkins is set to make his 36th competitive appearance of 2016 when England face Australia at London’s Olympic Stadium tomorrow.

He was Rhinos’ only ever-present and has appeared in all three of England’s autumn internationals, playing the full 80 minutes of every game.

Most of Watkins’ Rhinos team-mates are already back in training, but a win tomorrow could see England through to next week’s Ladbrokes Four Nations final and he reckons that would salvage something from a below-par year.

“It has been a long, hard season, but it is something you learn from,” Watkins said. “We have got to learn from how the season was for Leeds and I feel fortunate to be part of this England team and squad.

“It would be lovely if we could get to the final. We have just got to focus on getting the win and if we do we will have a big opportunity of getting to the final.

“It is a huge game, but hopefully we can come up with a great performance and we can continue for another week.”

England will be out of the tournament if they lose, leaving New Zealand to face Australia in the final at Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium in eight days’ time.

England or Great Britain have not beaten Australia for 10 years and it will take a major improvement to reverse that trend. Coach Wayne Bennett’s side showed some promising signs in their opening 17-16 loss to the Kiwis, but laboured to an unimpressive 38-12 win over Scotland a week ago.

“Playing Australia is a huge challenge for us,” Watkins conceded. “The mood in the camp is pretty good, training has been going well and we’re getting ourselves prepped and prepared for what should be a good game.

“We were off last week in terms of keeping hold of the ball and we’ll have to be better at that. Credit to Scotland for how well they played, but we got the result in the end.

“It was a good result, but at the same time the performance wasn’t great.

“It showed us a couple of things we need to work on. That’s going to take time, going through the next couple of years as well.”

Watkins is confident England can challenge an Australian defence which has conceded only 20 points in their opening two games.

“We put New Zealand under a lot of pressure,” he said.

“We could have won that game, but in terms of doing the smart stuff and being disciplined, that is really important.

“Australia are probably the best at doing that so we have got to match them in terms of that and when opportunities come we have got to take them, because you don’t get many at this level.”

Australia’s line-up is phenomenally strong, but Watkins insisted: “We have got some fantastic players in our squad.

“If we gel together we can come up with a fantastic result. We are just focused on what we need to do.

“I’ve never won against Australia. I’ve played them a couple of times and they have been quite close.

“We know we can be competitive, it is just about a bit more in terms of building pressure and that should give us opportunities to score points.

“It’s the old cliche about the full 80 minutes. We have played well for an hour and just not finished games off. That’s something we need to do.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Brown is poised for a shock recall for tomorrow’s clash with Australia.

With stand-off Gareth Widdop also recalled, it points to Bennett using a third different half-back partnership in as many matches, although the veteran coach is keeping the Australians guessing by including last week’s pairing of Castleford’s Luke Gale and George Williams in his 19-man squad.