Australia v England: Watkins is ready to end long wait for England

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KALLUM Watkins refuses to listen to the gathering voices who claim that the once peerless Australia are on the brink of meltdown.

The world champions have, by their standards, endured a rare difficult week since being convincingly outplayed by New Zealand last Saturday.

England RL's Kallum Watkins

England RL's Kallum Watkins

England now have a chance to send the hosts crashing out of the Four Nations – and missing out on a major final for the first time in 60 years – by quickly inflicting a second successive defeat in Melbourne tomorrow.

Such a loss would be unthinkable for the Australians and their expectant public have been letting them know this week as the pressure increases.

Already shorn of a dozen players, stand-off Daly Cherry-Evans is set to play with serious doubts over his fitness after departing with a painful hip injury in that sobering Kiwi defeat.

Furthermore, coach Tim Sheens – who did not attend Thursday’s pre-match press conference after quarantining himself from the squad due to flu-like symptoms – has taken a huge gamble by selecting teenager Sione Mata’utia.

At just 18 years and 130 days old, he replaces Israel Folau as the youngest Kangaroo debutant and his arrival comes after just seven National Rugby League games with Newcastle Knights.

Leeds Rhinos centre Watkins, a try-scorer in England’s 32-26 opening win over Samoa, told The Yorkshire Post: “There has been stuff said over here and I guess they are under pressure.

“It’s not too often Australia have that but they have now.

“Yet I haven’t paid too much notice to it all.

“We’ve just focused on what we’re doing. We still have a job to do to come up with the right result.

“A lot of hard work has been put in during training as last week wasn’t up to scratch.

“We did what we had to win and that’s a big positive but we know we have to be better against Australia. We have a chance now to do that.

“We’ve certainly done that in training but now we need to do it on the field. It’s the time.”

Watkins, who has scored seven tries in nine Tests for England, is not foolish enough to think this under-siege Australian side will not retaliate tomorrow.

It is in their DNA to rise to any sort of challenge and, of course, no side from these shores has won there since Great Britain did so in 2006 – too long in the 23-year-old’s opinion.

“It has been a long time and it’d be an honour to be able to help end that record,” admitted Watkins, who, with his pace and footwork, has the sort of strike threat that can cause the hosts genuine problems.

“It’d be really pleasing for the English game, massive for Super League and, with the personnel we have, we know we can do this.

“We need to do the basics right, be disciplined and show our attacking flair.

“The end result is a place in the final and any win over Australia will give us a big boost for that.”

With regards Mata’utia, a powerful and strong ball-carrier, sometimes people so young simply thrive on such a bold challenge as this while others, understandably, freeze.

He joins Reg Gasnier – who went on to to become one of the game’s ‘Immortals’ so coped okay in the circumstances – as the most inexperienced player to pull on the Green and Gold jersey and Watkins says England will not take him lightly.

“To be fair, at a young age you are going to be really enthusiastic and want to go out and play at the top level,” said a player who was promoted into Leeds’ first-team squad at just 16.

“You have to take a chance like that with both hands and we have to prepare as though he has no fear and will play to his best.

“I’m really looking forward to the challenge of facing him if that happens and it is great for him at such a young age and having hardly played any NRL games.”

In a week where Watkins’s ex-England team-mate Sam Burgess was unveiled amid mass media hype as a Bath player, it was timely by Leeds on Tuesday to announce he had signed a five-year deal to stay at Headingley.

It is a significant fillip for the sport here; there was opportunities to move to the NRL where an increasing number of his England colleagues are based, and rumoured interest from union, too.

As one of the finest players in Super League, any departure would have been a real body blow.

Watkins, who has won a Grand Final, Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge since coming through Leeds’ Academy ranks, admitted: “There was a bit of temptation and you have to take that into consideration. But there wasn’t much.

“I thought about it but realised I am happy where I am and my family is, too. I’ve been really impressed with the kids coming through at Leeds over the last couple of seasons and the future there is bright. There will be a period where the experienced lads are going to retire at some stage and it will be a tough transition.

“To be a part of that is a challenge in itself but one I’m looking forward to and there’s plenty of reasons to stay in league.

“It is where you are happy that matters. Some people want different challenges and pathways and that is up to them.

“It is big news Sam going to Bath which is great for him and a challenge he wanted so I really wish him good luck.

“But Leeds is a great club with a great culture and I’m very fortunate to be a part of it.”