ROOKIE forward Mike McMeeken’s Test selection has been welcomed by England veteran Kallum Watkins.
The 22-year-old Basingstoke-born back-rower is one of three uncapped players named in coach Wayne Bennett’s 20-man squad to face Samoa in Sydney on Saturday, May 6.
McMeeken has made rapid progress since joining Castleford Tigers from London Broncos in the autumn of 2014 and Watkins believes he has a bright future and deserves his England place.
“It is good to see him in there; it is a massive opportunity for him and he has definitely earned it,” the Leeds Rhinos centre said.
“The past couple of seasons at Cas he has really performed well and got himself in the frame.
“I’m pleased for him and for Zak [Hardaker] as well. It is good to see him come into form and getting back on to the international stage.
“It is a good squad, we’ve got the players there who are on form. There’s some guys from the NRL and we have got experienced players who have been in big games and won Grand Finals. That’s good for us because we know it is going to be a tough battle against Samoa.”
England will fly to Sydney after this weekend’s round of Super League matches, returning to England soon after the game.
The last time a team from this country played a mid-season Test Down Under, in July, 2002, Great Britain were embarrassed 64-10 by Australia.
Next month’s game will test England mentally and physically, but Watkins is confident they can handle it.
“That is the challenge we have to face,” he said.
“Having to travel there and just being there a week, it is not ideal, but you have to go through situations which aren’t ideal.
“You aren’t always going to have the best preparation, but for us playing Samoa in Australia is a fantastic opportunity to play together and perform well. It is only going to benefit us as a team going into the World Cup.”
Watkins has been in impressive form this season for Leeds, who are joint-top of Super League, and was probably one of the first names on Bennett’s teamsheet, but the 26-year-old insisted he was not certain of his place until official confirmation came.
“You never take things for granted,” Watkins said. “You can’t think about it too much, I just have to concentrate on what I am doing on the field for Leeds.
“For me it is about being consistent and being the kind of guy who makes things happen on the pitch.
“It is my job to do that and if I do that consistently then hopefully I can get a lot more recognition in the international game.”
This is Watkins’s sixth year in the England set-up and he is poised to win his 20th cap next month, but feels he still has a point to prove at Test level.
One of the most powerful attacking weapons in the domestic game, Watkins reckons he has yet to show his best form for his country.
He said: “I feel I haven’t performed in those kind of games, against the bigger teams. The opportunities that come now I have got to take with both hands. It is a huge opportunity for everyone involved.”
Watkins described his form for Leeds this year as “pretty good”.
He said: “I am pretty happy and the team is playing well as well. When that happens you are going to get more opportunities, you are going to apply more pressure to the opposition.
“We are always getting tested, but the last month has been pretty good. We had a good Easter as a group. We had some tough games, but we managed to pull through when at times last year it probably wouldn’t have been the same result.
“We will take that and we are through to the next round of the Challenge Cup as well. Things are looking good, but we have got to keep our feet on the ground, stay confident and make sure we perform when we’re on the field. That’s the most important thing.”
Leeds will face Catalans Dragons in Perpignan on the day Watkins is lining up against Samoa.
He is an ever-present for his club since the start of last year and said: “It has been a while since I missed a competitive game so it will be interesting not playing for Leeds that week, but playing for England is something special that you always dream of doing. I am always proud and honoured to be part of that and I feel quite fortunate to be there, so I’ve got to make the most of it.”