PLENTY of people thought Liam Watts could never change his controversial ways but the in-form Castleford Tigers prop seems to be proving them wrong.
Indeed, coach Daryl Powell believes his towering forward should now finally be rewarded with England recognition after eradicating much-publicised discipline issues.
The 28-year-old has long been one of Super League’s best front-rows, not least when helping Hull FC to back-to-back Challenge Cup successes in 2016 and 2017.
However, he has still yet to earn a maiden Test cap and, for one reason or another, has been continually overlooked.
Castleford bought him from Hull in March after the off-loading forward was surprisingly told he could look for a new club.
Watts had suffered with discipline problems, having received four red cards inside 11 months before the switch, while Airlie Birds coach Lee Radford claimed he had off-field issues to deal with, too.
But the powerful front-row has been consistently superb for Castleford, highlighted again with another hard-running display as they vanquished Huddersfield Giants 44-12 on Thursday.
Granted, England are not short of props with the likes of James Graham, Chris Hill and Tom and George Burgess as well as Alex Walmsley, who is, of course, currently injured.
Furthermore, Warrington Wolves front-row Mike Cooper was recalled in July for the latest England Performance Squad ahead of this autumn’s Test series against New Zealand while St Helens’ impressive Luke Thompson is expected to feature after being 18th man versus the Kiwis in Denver earlier this year.
Yet Powell is adamant Watts needs to also be in that mix on the back of his own stellar displays that have left third-placed Castleford just 80 minutes from successive Grand Finals.
“He should be in there,” said the former Great Britain star, about a player who has missed just three of 23 games since debuting for his hometown club and remains such an integral part of their make-up.
“If you look at the reason that has been stated before why Liam hasn’t played international football, it’s all been around his discipline.
“And his discipline since he’s been here has been immaculate.
“He’s not giving penalties away and I could easily have left him out there for 80 minutes on Thursday night.
“I’ve done it already this season; he’s as durable as you get and a high-quality player.
“He should really be in and around it now. I don’t see many better front-rowers around.”
Furthermore, Watts has not received a single yellow, let alone red, card since arriving at Wheldon Road and the Featherstone-born player seems to be thriving with a change environment.
Meanwhile, the victory over Huddersfield was a fourth successive win as Castleford continue building momentum towards the play-offs.
They host Wakefield Trinity on Friday before rounding off their Super 8s campaign at leaders St Helens who they could yet meet at Old Trafford. Powell is pleased with his side’s progress, especially as it came without Man of Steel Luke Gale who was nursing an injury to his side and also Joe Wardle who injured a calf in their final practice session.
England scrum-half Gale should return against Wakefield while second-row Wardle is expected to be ready for, if not Saints, certainly that semi-final.
As Castleford bid to atone for last year’s Grand Final defeat against Leeds Rhinos, Powell admits he wants sides to be able to show their toughness more.
“I just thought (referee) Ben (Thaler) was a little bit twitchy on a couple of penalties,” he said, as Tigers surged home after leading just 16-12 at the break. “We wanted to exert a little bit of pressure.
“I do think there is too many penalties in yardage; it’s too easy to get out.
“When we started to get that right I think that’s when they (Giants) started to struggle.
“There was one penalty that was given as a high tackle that was across his back. That was Adam Milner. It wasn’t (high). There was another that was questionable about taking a player back over the tryline.
“But the game should be tougher; it should be tough to get off your own line when a team has you in there. I thought we were really good, though, particularly defending,”