ENGLAND CENTRE Kallum Watkins reckons tomorrow’s visit to Salford Red Devils is the start of a “massive” spell for Leeds Rhinos.
Rhinos have three games remaining in the regular Betfred Super League season before a Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final showdown with Hull.
The challenge for us is to continue what we are doing, but be more consistent in winning. I think there’s a good opportunity now for us to keep on going,Leeds Rhinos’ Kallum Watkins
Salford began Super League round 21 in second spot, with Leeds third and Watkins says that makes the clash with the club he used to support a four-pointer.
Tomorrow’s victors will be a point away from guaranteeing a top-four finish at the end of the regular season and an extra home game in the Super-8s.
Rhinos play Hull – who began the weekend in fourth spot – at Headingley next Friday and finish the weekly rounds with a trip to champions Wigan Warriors.
Castleford Tigers have first place sewn up, but the rest of the leading positions are up for grabs and Watkins said: “They are three massive games for us.
“We want to get the extra home game going into the Super-8s – that’s really important for us.
“The challenge for us is to continue what we are doing, but be more consistent in winning. I think there’s a good opportunity now for us to keep on going, but we need to get these wins over the next couple of weeks against some top teams.”
Rhinos have lost only twice to Salford in the summer era, but were beaten 14-10 at AJ Bell Stadium last year.
The Red Devils have been transformed after their extra-time win over Hull KR in the 2016 million pound match relegation shootout and Watkins warned: “Salford have been fantastic this year.
“They have been a bit hot and cold in the last few weeks, but they are in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup and the top-four as well so they deserve a lot of credit.
“They deserve to be where they are and we know it will be tough to go there and get the result, but we are certainly looking forward to it.”
Watkins, 26, was captain - for the first time - in last week’s win over St Helens.
He will hand the duties back when Danny McGuire returns from suspension tomorrow, but says he is looking to take a leadership role.
“I am trying to be more of a leader in the team and I think that has helped me the past couple of years,” he said.
“We’ve had some big, key players leave and last week we were without three key players who are real leaders in our team.
“Magsy [McGuire], Rob [Burrow] and Jonesy [Jamie Jones-Buchanan] are huge for us and with Fez [Brett Ferres] being out as well that’s a lot of players with a lot of experience under their belts.
“I just wanted to play well and lead the team the best way possible. I am a laid-back kind of guy and quite shy, but when I am comfortable with the guys I open up a lot more.
“When you are on the field you need that talk and that communication with everybody. It’s important to work well with the players, especially with the halves, trying to get some organisation going.”
Salford also see tomorrow’s game as pivotal in the top-four race. “It is massive, I think it is a decider really,” their former Hull KR and Bradford centre Kris Welham said.
“We’re one place above Leeds on points difference so it will be a huge game. We face Cas the week after too, so we have two massive games, but we’re confident. We are backing ourselves and if we turn up with the right attitude and everyone is on their game I’m sure we can get that win.”