Watkins’ testimonial match against Castleford Tigers yesterday was his first since suffering a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament at the Magic Weekend last May.
The England ace underwent the second knee reconstruction of his career, but has been in full training since the start of the year and played 59 minutes of Rhinos’ 26-24 defeat to the Tigers.
He is now expected to be available to lead the side out when they travel to Warrington Wolves in Betfred Super League round one on Saturday, February 2.
“It felt really good,” the 27-year-old centre said of his long-awaited return to action.
“It has been seven months, but I really enjoyed it, being out there with the boys.
“I was told I was playing 40 minutes, but at half-time nothing was said so I knew I was going to be out there for another 10-15.
“It was fine by me, I would have been happy to play the whole game, but we’re not pushing it too much as it’s been so long since I last played.”
Watkins added: “I am really enjoying pre-season; it has been fantastic for us.
“It has been hard and I’m proud of us for working so hard and getting ourselves prepared for a big season.”
Watkins scored Leeds’ opening try and admitted: “It was nice to get over.
“The main thing for me was to get out there and play with the lads.
“The boys really worked hard and these are the type of games when you try some things you’ve been working on in pre-season.
“It is going to take time. I know we’ve worked hard, but a lot of things have changed for us.
“We’ve got new people in and they are going to take time to gel.
“We’ve got to take positives and work hard and the boys will do that.
“I am just excited for round one now.”
Rhinos trailed 18-4 after half an hour, but hit back to dominate most of the second period without being able to find a winning score.
“We didn’t get the result, but we took some positives out of it,” the skipper insisted.
“I thought at times we were really good with the ball. We didn’t start well.
“We didn’t match their intensity at times, especially at the start.
“They got off to a really good start.
“That’s something to work on, but it’s pre-season, we’ll take some positives and, hopefully, work on it the next few weeks.”
Yesterday’s game drew a crowd of 6,087 and Watkins stressed: “I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone, from both sides, for their support. It was a fantastic turnout. It was an honour and it was really good to have my family there to support me. That’s something I really appreciate and I’m really grateful for.
“They have sacrificed their time to help me live my dream, so to have them there supporting me – in my comeback game and my testimonial game – was really special.”