Returning former Leeds Rhinos captain Kallum Watkins linked with Toronto Wolfpack move
LEEDS RHINOS coach Richard Agar admits it is a shame things failed to work out for the club’s former captain Kallum Watkins in the NRL.
Gold Coast Titans announced on Saturday they have granted the England centre an immediate release from his contract due to family reasons.
It is understood Watkins’ dad has contracted coronavirus and he and his family want to be back home closer to their relatives.
Manchester-born Watkins only left Leeds to join the Australian side in June and was contracted until the end of 2021.
However, he is reported to be set to link up again with ex-Rhinos boss Brian McDermott at Toronto Wolfpack whose UK base is near Manchester.
Watkins, 29, won three Grand Finals with Leeds having played his entire career with the club.
He needed a knee reconstruction after an ACL injury in 2018 and was still trying to regain his silky best form when he moved Down Under.
But the gifted player – who has earned 25 caps and featured for England in the 2017 World Cup final – had shown some encouraging signs before this latest NRL campaign was cut short due to the pandemic.
Agar said: “Kallum would have definitely benefited from a full pre-season and certainly the length of the pre-season over there. I dare say the conditions would have helped him as well but sometimes circumstances arise that are just more important than rugby league.”
Watkins had already returned to the UK to be with his ill father and did so with just eight NRL games under his belt.
Agar conceded the three-quarter, who made more than 250 appearances for the Rhinos, returning to Emerald Headingley was not an option they had considered.
Youngster Harry Newman has thrived since Watkins’ departure, enjoying a spectacular start to this term that saw the uncapped centre called up to England coach Shaun Wane’s Ashes plans.
“At this moment in time it’s hard to see anyone coming in or out of the club,” said Agar, with all the squad furloughed and last week receiving pay cuts.
“With the current state of the game, there’s no movement from us and it’s certainly not a position we’re struggling in in terms of depth. Harry’s been great.
“I wasn’t really party too much to what was going on with Kallum (last year). It was very much a contractual matter that Gary (Hetherington) dealt with.
“But one of the factors taken into account I’d imagine is that Harry was a player who had a strong 10 year career ahead of him if he got it right. He’s doing a good job for us at the moment.”
Titans coach Justin Holbrook said: “Kallum worked incredibly hard in the off-season, and that was evident in the form we saw from him at the start of the season – in the trial against the Broncos, and then our two premiership games against Canberra and Parramatta.
“For him to have to walk away now just as he was getting back to his best is devastating for him, and for us as his friends. But family always comes first, and we would never stand in Kallum’s way of doing what is best for his family in a very difficult time.”
Former St Helens boss Holbrook added: “He has only been here a short time, but is an immensely popular guy in the playing group.
“I am mostly just bitterly disappointed for Kallum – firstly that he has to endure this awful situation with health concerns with family members, and secondly that he has had to walk away from his dream of proving himself in the NRL.
“Every day he exhibited the qualities that the club wanted namely his leadership and his professionalism.
“He leaves the Titans with our thanks and best wishes, for him and his family.”