GIVEN the way half-backs have been falling all around him, Hull KR’s Chris Atkin must have come close to becoming a full England international less than 18 months after quitting his job as a PE teacher.
The 25-year-old is currently on tour with the England Knights at their training camp in Brisbane ahead of flying to Papua New Guinea for the first of two internationals against the Kumuls on Saturday.
It is deserved reward for his impressive first full season as a professional player having left part-timers Swinton Lions to join Rovers for their successful promotion push out of the Championship last July.
Atkin immediately thrived in Super League and was given the call by Knights boss Paul Anderson back in May to be told he was in his plans.
However, with a raft of leading half-backs pulled out of the senior squad - Luke Gale, Gareth Widdop and Kevin Brown - as well as George Williams and Jonny Lomax rested, let alone the Knights expected half-back pairing of Jake Trueman and Danny Richardson falling to injury, he can’t have been far off being drafted into Wayne Bennett’s plans.
Four Knights players did, indeed, get the call-up to the senior team for Wednesday’s Test against France in Leigh before flying out to Australia the following morning while Leeds Rhinos No7 Richie Myler was a late addition for that game and the three-Test series against New Zealand.
“It was a bit of a surprise seeing people dropping out and if it (a Test cap) happened it’d have happened,” said Atkin.
“But I’m made up to be involved in the Knights. I suppose you can’t do everything in one season!
“I’m made up for the likes of (Hull KR team-mate) Robbie Mulhern and those other lads who did make that step up to play for England against France and I couldn’t wait to see Robbie do his thing.
“Maybe there was an opportunity but I’m just made up to be in this Knights squad and can’t wait for PNG now.
“It’s my first time over in Australia and going over to PNG is something you might not ever go in your life so it’s going to be a test both mentally and physically but I am really excited.”
All of this when only last year he was preparing PE lessons at Wade Deacon High School in Widnes.
“It has been a bit crazy,” admitted Atkin.
“Obviously I’ve been (home) at Widnes these last couple of weeks while I’ve been off and seeing people there and friends that I worked with.
“It has been a bit of whirlwind 18 months to get to this point but obviously I’m not going to rest here now.
“Hopefully I’ll carry on and see what happens.”
He should be nailed on to start against PNG on Saturday after Super League’s Young Player of the Year Trueman and St Helens’ Dream Team No7 Richardson both failed to travel.
“It is disappointing to see them drop out with injuries,” added Atkin, when asked if this is a chance to now cement an international spot for the future.
“The squad’s at a good level now but they have absolutely played really well this season.
“I’d have still pushed as hard for a position - I’m not resting thinking I’m guaranteed a spot - and I have to go do the things the coach has spoken about and work well with the team.
“We’ve spoken about within this squad how half-back that my role will probably suit.
“We spoke about covering full-back. It’s not necessarily natural to me but I did a job at the end of the season for KR.
“The option there is to fill in at nine if needed but we do have some really good hookers who have played really well this season.
“I want to be in that one to 17 come the first came and anywhere will do.”
Hull KR, meanwhile, have a proud history of employing Papuan players, not least Kumuls legends such as Stanley Gene, John Akul and Makali Aizue.
Rugby league is the national sport in the country and their people are truly fanatical about the sport.
“I’ve not had chance to speak to Stan but obviously the people at the club have spoken to the PNG players in the past - and there is quite a good link there,” said Atkin.
“They said how much they talk about back home when they’ve been around the club and how much of an exciting place it is to be.
“We’ve spoken about the culture and I’m really excited about going to see that and experience that as well as play the rugby.
“I’ve been to South Africa which, looking at a few of the videos the NRL have put on, it reminds me a little bit of the excitement around that and the conditions there.
“But I do think it will be something everyone will be surprised by and it’s an exciting challenge.
“We’ve not looked too much at PNG yet. Obviously, I’ve seen bits from the World Cup last year and little bits of the Australia game.
"They are a really physical side and they will be a different test going into their backyard; playing down there will be one of the toughest conditions you can play in."