Leeds Rhinos: Whistle-stop tour is just the ticket says Watkins

Kallum Watkins.
Kallum Watkins.
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A whistle-stop visit is the best way of dealing with one of Super League’s trickiest assignments, according to Leeds Rhinos centre Kallum Watkins.

For the third successive season Rhinos are making a day trip of their meeting with Catalans Dragons in the south of France..

The squad was scheduled to check in at Leeds-Bradford Airport at 6.30am today ahead of a chartered flight direct to Perpignan 90 minutes later.

They were due to land at 11.30am local time, six and a half hours before kick-off.

The return flight is scheduled for a 10pm take-off, arriving back in Yeadon at 11.30pm.

The alternative is a flight to Barcelona and then road transfer across the border into France, meaning at least two nights away from home.

Rhinos’ unique approach to the Catalans fixture has seen them return with the points in each of the past two years and Watkins is happy to get it over and done with in a day.

“It’s a challenge in itself going to Catalans,” Watkins said.

“We managed to get a good result there last year, which we can take on board.

“We are doing the same again, going on the day.

“It is going to be a very long day for us, but if we can get the result it is worth it.”

He added: “I prefer going on the day, definitely. It gives us more time to prepare (in Leeds).

“It’s different to what we do for home games or normal away games, but you do get chance to spend some time with the guys and just chill out and relax once you’re there.

“There’s a relaxed feeling throughout the afternoon and then once it comes to game time you’re on and then straight back home afterwards. You get back late, but we do that every away game anyway and if we get the result it’s a good feeling.”

A hotel has been booked for Rhinos in Perpignan, so the team will have an opportunity to rest and eat together before heading to the ground.

“Watkins reckons Leeds will need the best-possible preparation as they aim for a sixth win in seven First Utility Super League matches.

“It has been a tough March for us, but we’ve been playing pretty well in patches,” said the in-form England centre.

“In the Warrington game what we did with the ball wasn’t good enough, but defensively we were good, which is a positive sign.

“The Wigan game last week was nip and tuck, but it was a good performance – especially the second half. In the first half we were a bit too eager with the ball again, especially on their line. It was quite tight at half-time, but we managed to pull away in the second half.

“We had to work hard for that and you have to give big raps to the forwards. They were fantastic for us in terms of strength of carry and their defence as well.

“It was a really tough and close game, but a bit scrappy at times and this week we’ll need to carry on with what we are doing: be good with the ball and defensively strong.

“That’s what you’ve got to bring when you go to Catalans because they will definitely be up for it.”

Watkins’ destructive wide running has been a feature of Rhinos’ good start to the campaign, but he believes he has yet to hit his peak.

“The past few weeks have been pretty good, but I just want to improve and keep on doing what I am doing,” he said.

“I want that consistency. I don’t think I got it last year, but I need to keep playing as I’m doing now. I am getting a lot of confidence from the boys as well, because they’re playing well. I’ve still got a lot to offer.

“I am doing everything I can to get involved and get hold of the ball. If I do that opportunities are going to come and hopefully I’ll be there to capitalise.”

Watkins is having to adjust to a new combination, with his regular winger Tom Briscoe sidelined by a long-term shoulder injury. Under-19s player Ash Handley will continue on the right-flank today, after scoring in last week’s win over Wigan.

“I’m not used to playing with young Ash,” Watkins admitted. “I’ve not played with him that many times, but I thought he did well last week.

“He took his try well. There is still work to do, but it is an opportunity for him to get some game time and get used to the speed of the game.

“The challenges Mac (coach Brian McDermott) will set him he will certainly take on board and he will improve each week. That’s good for me.

“In the friendlies he played in pre-season he was very, very good and in the academy he has been very, very good. He has been given a chance he deserves.

“It is a shame about Tom being injured, he has had a fantastic start to the season and he has been so strong for us.

“He will be missed, but Ash can add a different kind of dimension.

“He is quick and elusive and quite strong as well. He has got good footwork as well and he adds something a bit different to Tom.”

Catalans Dragons: from Escare, Pala, Cardace, Tonga, Pomeroy, Dureau, Bosc, Elima, Henderson, Casty, Taia, Whitehead, Baitieri, Anderson, Lima, Pelissier, Bousquet, Garcia, Maria.

Leeds Rhinos: from Hardaker, Handley, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sutcliffe, McGuire, Cuthbertson, Aiton, Peacock, Ablett, S Ward, Jones-Buchanan, Burrow, Delaney, Singleton, Yates, Achurch, Walters.

Referee: Richard Silverwood.

Kick-off: Today, 6pm local (5pm GMT).