Leeds Rhinos centre Kallum Watkins has ruled out following Sam Burgess and chasing World Cup glory with England’s rugby union team.
The 23-year-old was one of England’s Rugby League World Cup stars last autumn and is tipped for an impressive season at Headingley this year.
But with Burgess having opted to join union side Bath – with the lure of earning an international call-up by Stuart Lancaster for the 2015 World Cup – there has been speculation Manchester-born Watkins could be one of the next targeted by union bosses.
But speaking ahead of tonight’s Super League encounter with Widnes Vikings at Headingley, Watkins rubbished reports of switching codes.
“There’s nothing in that,” insisted Watkins, a team-mate of Sam Burgess at last year’s Rugby League World Cup. “I have never really thought about it (switching codes).
“Union is such a big sport, you can’t blame Sam for going.
“It’s an opportunity to play in the Rugby Union World Cup, which would be a great story for him.
“Playing in the World Cup in England at rugby league, and then if he does well, getting into the England rugby union squad for 2015 – again in England – it would be a great story for Sam.
“I am really happy that he’s looking to challenge himself in a new sport, the chance to play across the world, and financially it’s really good for him. You can’t blame him.”
Like the old saying “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, the Rhinos have become slow starters in recent seasons before building up to the business-end of the campaign as they chase Grand Final glory.
That prize eluded Brian McDermott’s team last year – they crashed out in the play-offs to Wigan Warriors – but this season Leeds have started impressively.
They cruised to a 34-6 opening day win at Hull Kingston Rovers, before an impressive 18-12 victory over Warrington Wolves. A 40-12 success was their reward in France at Catalan Dragons, before last weekend’s trip to bogey side Huddersfield Giants.
The Giants smashed Leeds 32-8 at Headingley and 40-18 in the reverse fixture last year, to leave the Rhinos determined to make amends this season.
Watkins was on the scoreboard with a try in a 12-12 draw at the John Smith’s Stadium and the centre hopes they can maintain their unbeaten start tonight against a Widnes side who have also yet to taste defeat in 2014.
“The season has started very nicely,” said Watkins. “For the past couple of years it’s not been that way, so we are pretty happy with our start.
“But there’s still a lot of work to do. We have a big game now against Widnes, who have not lost either.”
Watkins puts that down to the Vikings’ settled squad, which has been allowed to develop naturally over recent seasons.
“For the last few years they have near enough kept the same players, gained that culture, and improved year on year,” he said.
“That’s really pleasing for Super League as a whole, but obviously their club as well.
“They have started this season well, are really confident with ball in hand, and positive in defence too.
“They will be a tough team to break down.”
And on that amazing 12-12 tie at Huddersfield, Watkins believes it was a good test of the Rhinos’ resilience as they look to bounce back after last season’s disappointing end to the campaign.
“In the first half we didn’t perform at the level we want to be, but in the second half we really dug in and got the draw,” he said.
“They had a lot of momentum and we had to try to combat that.
“But we will take the draw, the point, because they are a good side. Their last two results haven’t gone their way and they came out fired up. The previous five or six games we have played them, Giants have spanked us.
“It was important we kept ourselves in the game. They could have finished the game off, but we got back in and almost won in the end.”
Watkins’s captain Kevin Sinfield is within sight of another major milestone tonight.
The No 13 – who holds Leeds and Super League records for most points and goals – is 16 points short of 3,500 for his club.
Sinfield expects another stern test tonight against Widnes.
“I think everybody’s dangerous and each week each team will pose a different challenge,” he predicted.
“I think we know we have to perform, especially being at home.
“On the back of our performance last week, even though we got a point, I think we need to show a little bit more than that.
“Hopefully we can come out and play very well and get back on track.”