ENGLAND CENTRE Kallum Watkins has quashed speculation about his future by confirming he is remaining loyal to Leeds Rhinos.
Watkins signed a new five-year deal in October 2015, but has been linked with a move to Australia’s NRL, rival Super League clubs and rugby union this season.
The 25-year-old, who made his debut in 2008, is ever-present this year and – after a slow start – has hit form in recent games, grabbing four tries in his last three appearances.
That has made him a key figure in a resurgence which sends Rhinos to Hull KR tonight on a run of four wins from their last five matches and with a chance of finishing as high as ninth in First Utility Super League before the competition splits into Super-8s and Qualifiers.
Despite a poor season, Leeds will end the weekly rounds as the competition’s best-supported club and Watkins said he is keen to repay the fans for their backing.
“I am happy at this club and I am staying loyal to this club,” Watkins insisted. “This year has been pretty tough for everyone, from the group’s perspective and for the fans, but they have stuck by us and that is a huge key in our club.
“In recent weeks we have been playing a lot better, but the fans have stuck by us through the tough times as well. They are passionate, they love the club and they want the best out of the club as well, so for them to continue to support us is great. That is something I really appreciate, the fans have been fantastic.”
Watkins dismissed rumours about his future as “speculation” and he added: “I am not going anywhere, I am happy at this club and my family are happy here as well. The boys have been great. It has been tough in terms of the playing situation, but off the field – at training or whatever as a group – it is a great club to be a part of.
“It has been difficult this year and we don’t want to go through this situation again, but it is a huge learning curve for everyone involved in this club to put things right. I think the way we have been playing we are trying to put things right. We are in a going to be in the Qualifiers and we’ll be playing some decent teams from the Championship who have earned the right to try and get into Super League, so we know it’s going to be tough. For me, it’s just preparing for that and being at my best for that.”
Watkins stressed the team’s improved form is more important than his own. He added “I am back among the tries, but the important thing is we – as a group – are performing better. We have had a couple of good results and we’ve been playing well for a month or so now.
“It is progression for us, we are pretty happy and we just need to keep doing what we are doing. I’m not doing anything different, just what I normally do – doing my extras and doing what I need to do to prepare myself well for game day.
“It is just about going out there and doing it and doing it more than I have been this year. Things are coming off, the team are playing well and you get more of an influence if the group as a whole is playing pretty well.
“Opportunities will come and you’ve just got to take them. The boys have been doing well and we just need to keep it going. The middle-eights are going to be tough and we know we’re going to have to work hard and keep doing what we’re doing to build confidence going into these games.
“I have not played the best I could do, but there’s not been that many opportunities. It has been difficult, but I must be doing something right if I’m playing every week. I have played every minute of our season, which is good for me. It is good to get some games under my belt and I am happy with how I am going now, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have got a job to do and we have to go out and do it. How we do that is up to us.”
Rhinos go into tonight’s final Super League game 11th in the table, behind Hull KR and Salford Red Devils on for-and-against and two points clear of Huddersfield Giants. A win would lift them to ninth and leave Salford needing to beat visitors Hull tomorrow to overtake them, but Leeds’ points difference is worse than any of their rivals and they could still finish bottom if they lose and Huddersfield are successful at Warrington on Saturday. The big prize for this evening’s victors is four home games in the Qualifiers, against their bottom-four rivals and the leading quartet from the Kingstone Press Championship. Whoever loses will play three at home and four away.
“It would be good to get more games at Headingley, that would be an added bonus for us,” Watkins said. “Hull KR are in a similar position so we know it is going to be a tough battle. They are a resilient team and a good team so they will want to bounce back from last week [a defeat at Hull], but it’s one we are looking forward to. If we can get a good result and get four home games for the middle-eights it’ll be great for us.”
Fixtures for the Qualifers will be confirmed, along with the Super-8s’, next Wednesday.
The Headingley Carnegie pitch was reseeded after last week’s game and Rhinos have asked to be away in the opening round on the weekend of August 5-7.