Friday Interview - Kallum Watkins: Watkins keen to be centre of attention with Rhinos

Listen to the common consensus and the dearth of British three-quarter talent is as worrying as ever.

The lack of genuinely threatening centres, with pace and power, who can keep opponents guessing and fearful is depressingly acute.

It seems those fortunate Australians and New Zealanders, with their bottomless pit of strike stars, will never be troubled by an England side again.

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However, take a little closer look and is the problem really so moribund?

Cast your eye over the opening rounds of Engage Super League and there has been encouraging displays from a raft of young, homegrown outside backs.

Castleford centre Joe Arundel may still only be 19 but looks as comfortable as Keith Senior with a silkier style, the Huddersfield Giants duo of Michael Lawrence and Jermaine McGillvary exude both boundless physicality and speed, while Leeds Rhinos’ Ben Jones-Bishop – despite currently being hampered by a shoulder injury – looks a wonderful footballer.

Anyone who saw Wigan’s Josh Charnley feature at Huddersfield a fortnight ago witnessed a complete winger’s performance while Wakefield’s Aaron Murphy continues to show flair, Warrington’s robust Rhys Evans has burst onto the scene and Hull FC’s Tom Briscoe has long since established himself.

Then up popped Kallum Watkins, quite literally as Wakefield found to their cost on Sunday, the athletic Leeds teenager somehow rising into the air as if springing off a trampoline to pluck kicks and garner two marvellous tries in their 28-6 win.

He added another couple courtesy of sprightly finishes in the corner as the struggling visitors finally overcame a woeful first period, and his four-try blast left both coaches exalting his finesse. reminding England chief Steve McNamara that things might not be so bad afterall.

More impressive was the fact Watkins, primarily a centre, did all this after being shifted to the wing.

Hopefully such effortless versatility will not hamper his progression but it seems unthinkable the graceful 19-year-old will not emerge soon into an international three-quarter who will cause problems on the grandest of stages.

The immediate task at hand though is tonight’s visit of champions Wigan, smarting from losing their unbeaten record against Warrington a week ago, as inconsistent Leeds bid to avoid a third straight home league defeat for the first time since 2002.

Watkins is likely to find himself in direct opposition to Charnley, the prospect who earned promotion to Michael Maguire’s elite after a rewarding loan spell with Hull KR last season.

“I think there are some really top players coming through especially over at Wigan and those Saints half-backs Gaskell and Lomax,” Watkins told the Yorkshire Post.

“But the ones who most impress me are those from Huddersfield. Lawrence and McGillvary have come in and really taken to Super League, worked hard and got their rewards.

“Lawrence has played plenty of games now over the last two years and I want to be doing the same.”

Watkins is likely to get that chance even if ex-England winger Lee Smith is fit again this evening and injured Australian centre Brett Delaney is not far from a return.

Since making his debut aged just 16, he has played sporadically but last year looked like his breakthrough until his season was cruelly ended in March by a cruciate ligament injury which required a full knee reconstruction.

One characteristic he holds in plentiful supply though is confidence – his assessment of the game is littered with references to its requirement – and he never allowed such a serious setback affect his morale.

“It was all about working hard and getting right,” he added.

“I stuck to everything I had to and now I feel better than ever.”

Comparisons have already been made to sublime ex-Australian Test star Matt Gidley, that prince of centres whose often unplayable flick pass turned his accepting St Helens winger Ade Gardner into a full international.

Watkins’s ability to deliver that most difficult of plays has ruined plenty of defences already although he is wary of overplaying which was perhaps the case in Leeds’s last home loss against Harlequins.

“Matt Gidley’s passing skills are outstanding and a couple of players have tried it,” added the former Salford Academy product.

“I’ve had a go and sometimes it’s come off sometimes it hasn’t. You have to try new things and that’s part of the learning process being a centre – making the decision if it’s on or not.

“Maybe I need to use a bit of variation.

“Wigan is a really big challenge. We need to get out there and show the right attitude like Warrington did last Friday – their aggression, their commitment – throughout the whole team.

“Warrington really earned that victory and if we’re to win we must do too, putting them under real pressure.

“We didn’t do that in he first half at Wakefield. We’ve got to play simple and make sure Wigan know we are in the game.”