Centre Kallum Watkins was happy to see England’s fringe players get a chance to press their claims – but he was even more delighted to win back his own place in the team.
Watkins, who has been an England mainstay since making his debut in 2012, made way for Mark Percival against France in Perth last weekend, while Mike McMeeken, Scott Taylor and Kevin Brown also made their World Cup debuts in the 36-6 win that secured England’s place in the last eight.
Of those, only Brown has managed to keep his spot for Sunday’s quarter-final against Papua New Guinea at Melbourne’s Rectangular Stadium, where the 26-year-old Watkins will win his 23rd cap.
“Even though I don’t like not playing, it was very important for the guys that have worked hard for the past couple of weeks to get a game in and to try and state their claim for a place,” he said.
“All the boys work so hard and they’re here on merit, so they deserved an opportunity.”
Watkins accepted it was time to take a rest.
He played in all but four of Leeds’ 36 league and cup matches in 2017 – club-mate Ryan Hall missed only two – which culminated in the Rhinos’ Grand Final triumph over Castleford on October 7, just five days before the England squad flew out to Perth for their World Cup training camp.
Both Leeds men then put their hands up to play in the trial match against a Combined Affiliated States team just a week later and lined up against Australia seven days after that.
“They didn’t want us to play in the warm-up game but we wanted to get some minutes in and get ourselves prepared for the tournament,” Watkins said.
“I’m refreshed now after resting last week and just looking forward to Sunday’s game.”
Watkins will face a reunion with former Leeds team-mates Paul Aiton and James Segeyaro, two of the key men for the Kumuls who won all three of their group games.
“They’re two quality players,” he said.
“They’ve got a number of players in there that can cause us a lot of problems. Garry Lo especially has been fantastic.
“It’s been a great story for them.
“They’ve been fantastic and we know it’s going to be a tough challenge on Sunday.”
Watkins will run out at AAMI Park for the second time in three weeks after being involved in the opening game of the tournament between England and Australia and will return there in February when Leeds take on Melbourne in the 2018 World Club Challenge.
This time it will be a whistle-stop trip, with the Rhinos flying out to Australia the day after their Super League round-two fixture with Hull KR on February 8 to play the Storm on February 16 and returning to play their round three game against Widnes on February 25.
It promises to be a demanding schedule but Watkins says he will be up for it.
“We’re used to that,” he said. “There will be no excuse. We can use the example of what we did with the mid-season Test with England when we flew to Sydney a week before the game.
“It’s a massive game and the guys are going to be excited so they’re going to do everything possible to be involved.”