ENGLAND CENTRE Kallum Watkins says Leeds Rhinos are in confident mood going into a month of games which could define their season.
The defending champions are bottom of First Utility Super League after losing their opening two matches and are struggling with what chief executive Gary Hetherington has claimed is an “unprecedented” injury situation for this time of the year.
Last year’s treble winners face a huge third hurdle at Catalans Dragons today before a run of games against the other teams in last year’s top-five, Huddersfield Giants (home), Wigan Warriors (away), St Helens (home) and Castleford Tigers (away).
Four of Leeds’ next five games are against teams who beat them in 2015, beginning at a ground where they were hammered 46-16 in the Super-8s.
“It’s always a tough place to go,” Watkins said of this evening’s match in Perpignan.
“They are very good at home, they’ve signed some players and they’re looking pretty strong.
“It is going to be a tough challenge for us, but we’re certainly looking forward to it.
“We were obviously pretty disappointed with the result last week, but we want to put that right and how we’ve started in Super League as well.”
Rhinos held Australian champions North Queensland Cowboys to 4-4 in the opening period of last week’s Dacia World Club Challenge, but were overrun after half-time, when they conceded six tries and 34 points without reply.
“The first half was good and we’ve taken a lot of positives out of it in terms of our effort, but we were disappointed with the second half,” Watkins said.
“That was the down side of it, but we have got to move on now.
“We are concentrating on Super League now and it’s a tough game this week and a tough month for us.
“We can go in with a bit of confidence from last week and if we continue what we’re doing we’ll give ourselves a good chance of doing well.”
A try at the start of the second half began Rhinos’ downfall against North Queensland and Watkins said they need to react better when things go wrong.
“We needed to handle what they were going to come out with, because we knew they were going to come out firing,” he said.
“[Johnathan] Thurston got a bit more of the ball and got himself more involved and if we had handled that a bit better we could have given ourselves a better chance of winning.
“But we have moved on from that. We need to start games well and build on that and when we are under pressure we have to deal with that.
“I think that’s how you become the best team.
“All teams get put under pressure in every game, it’s teams that deal with it better and react positively from it who do well.
“We can certainly do that. We just have to prepare well leading into games.”
Watkins admitted Rhinos can’t afford to let their losing start to the season go on any longer.
A third successive defeat would be a huge blow to the champions’ hopes of a top-four spot and an extra home game in the Super-8s.
“We want to get some positives and some confidence and you do that by playing well and winning,” Watkins said.
“We are certainly looking to do that this week. We have been working hard in training and we’ve prepared well and we know we can do the job.
“We know it is going to be tough, but if we have the right attitude and we prepare the right way and defend well we have got every chance of winning.”
Rhinos have travelled to France without eight first-team squad men, but Watkins reckons the first half last week proved they can cope.
“It showed the depth of our squad and how good it is,” he said.
“Young players are coming in and gaining experience and last week will have been a huge confidence booster for the young lads who played in that.
“Some of the fringe players are going to get some game time now and that will be beneficial for everyone in the team.
“It is tough with injuries, but you always get them. It is how you deal with them that’s important.
“If we deal with them in the right way we will be okay.”
The England man described his own form so far this term as “all right”.
He said. “I am not too fussed about that, to be honest.
“I am just trying to work my way into the team. I think I will get a bit better going on.
“I am always looking to improve and to get a bit more involved with the ball and be better in defence.
“It has not been the best in terms of that for everyone, but we will be looking to improve and we’ll certainly be doing that.”
Catalans Dragons from: Gigot, Broughton, Inu, Duport, Richards, Carney, Myler, Anderson, Pelissier, Bousquet, Stewart, Horo, Baitieri, Taylor, Mounis, Bosc, Elima, Mason, Da Costa.
Leeds Rhinos from: Hardaker, Handley, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sutcliffe, Lilley, Galloway, Burrow, Cuthbertson, Delaney, Ferres, Singleton, Keinhorst, Mullally, Walters, Achurch, Baldwinson, S Hallas.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).
Kick-off: Today, 5pm GMT.