ENGLAND centre Kallum Watkins tomorrow takes the next step towards one world champion goal in Melbourne – before hopefully completing a second in the Australian city in just three months’ time.
Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against Papua New Guinea at AAMI Park is, of course, the most pressing matter as Wayne Bennett’s national side seek to reach the last four of the ongoing tournament.
However, it was announced earlier this week that Leeds Rhinos – who Watkins helped win yet another Grand Final last month – will play NRL champions Melbourne Storm at the same ground in the World Club Challenge on February 16.
“It is exciting and great news for the club,” he told The Yorkshire Post, as the West Yorkshire side prepare to venture to Australia for the first time.
“It’s such a massive opportunity for us to come to Melbourne and try win the World Club Challenge.
“The club has been successful for many, many years now and it’s the same with Melbourne.
“We’ve had three matches with them before in the World Club Challenge, all in Leeds, and I think it will be a great spectacle, something the club’s looking forward to.
“It’s a massive, massive game for us and we’ll have to be at our best.
“It will be difficult for both sides, too, with the pre-season we have; it will be quite short for those coming back from the World Cup.
“I think Storm have a lot of players that have played in this World Cup but it will still be a fantastic spectacle to be part of – to become the best in the world for your club – and what a way to do it in Melbourne.”
But what of the immediate goal and a fascinating clash with Papua New Guinea tomorrow?
Admittedly, the Kumuls are rank 150-1 outsiders to go on and lift the trophy themselves but, given some impressive displays in dominating their group, they certainly remain as a potential banana skin for England.
The second-tier nation have vanquished Wales and USA as well as battling past a fine Ireland team in the group stages.
Watkins, 26, conceded: “PNG have been great this year.
“It’s a great story for them but their performances have been really good.
“Obviously playing at home all their games have been really good.
“We know it will be a tough one on Sunday and a big challenge ahead.
“We have to prepare ourselves the best we can for a good performance.
“PNG’s players have been improving each year. But it’s just the passion and the love of the sport that is continuing to grow there and that’s what makes it such a brilliant story.
“They’ll continue to improve year on year and it has shown with the games they have played that they have improved and it is a huge opportunity in the quarter finals.
“We know it’s a huge challenge for us.
“We know we need to be on our best to perform well and beat them.”
England started with a hard-fought loss against reigning champions Australia that offered encouragement before comfortably overcoming both Lebanon and France.
Granted, they have still yet to deliver an 80-minute display but that might not be a bad thing at this stage.
“We’ve seen in the past three games how well we’ve started and then probably gone through a couple of patches where we’ve been a bit scratchy at times especially with the ball,” admitted Watkins, who has been a regular since his England debut in 2012.
“I think defensively we’ve been pretty good so we need to continue that, keep improving there and obviously with the ball get a little bit more consistency to apply more pressure on teams so we can get more points on.”
Watkins was rested against France, as was Leeds colleague Ryan Hall along with Canberra Raiders duo Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead, but all are recalled tomorrow.
“Obviously it’s been a long season hasn’t it so it was nice to get a rest,” he said.
“But also there was opportunities for the guys that haven’t played to try and stake a claim for this week.
“That’s what it’s all about; the team that is here has earned it on merit and everyone needed an opportunity to play. Wayne has done that with all the players.”