LEEDS RHINOS captain Kallum Watkins is confident of being fit for the start of the new season.
The England centre has not played since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in Rhinos’ Magic Weekend loss to Castleford Tigers on May 19, but hopes to make a comeback in his own benefit match against the same team at Emerald Headingley on Sunday, January 20.
Watkins has undergone the second knee reconstruction of his career, but is now getting close to full training.
Rhinos’ kick off their Betfred Super League campaign at Warrington Wolves on Saturday, February 2 and Watkins confirmed: “I have always aimed for my testimonial game.
“I am feeling really good, training has gone really well and I am back running now.”
Watkins has been in since the first day of pre-season on November 12.
“The first week of pre-season was a chance to get on the alter-G – [anti-gravity treadmill], the first time really running,” he said.
“The last couple of weeks have been pretty good in terms of getting on the field as well, so positive stuff.
“Hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll start getting some contact stuff in and directional running and things like that and obviously build my fitness up as well.
“Hopefully in the next month or so I should be back fully training.”
It has been a long road back for Watkins who took over the captaincy from Danny McGuire a year ago and is also Rhinos’ first-choice goal kicker.
He reflected: “Thinking about it, to be honest it has gone quite quickly.
“I’ve been through it before and the previous time it seemed slower, but I got back quicker.
“The dull moment was probably when it was off-season and through that month I was in a couple of times a week and just doing the same things.
“As soon as we got back into pre-season I started running so things changed then and I will be doing different stuff leading up to fully training so it should go quick.”
Watkins is feeling optimistic about Rhinos’ prospects for 2019.
They tumbled down the table following his injury last season, eventually finishing ninth to find themselves in a second relegation battle in three years.
“The boys have been training well and a lot of things are going to be changing,” he said.
“With everyone coming in now it is looking really good.
“That’s how it should be, you should be excited for the season ahead.”
He added: “Things have changed, players have come in and players have gone as well.
“Change is needed and Dave [Furner, Rhinos’ new coach] and all the staff have done really well putting to the players what they want from us and how they want us to play.
“It has been great for us and the boys have really dug in and worked hard.
“They want to make themselves better players and to do that we have to do well together as a team.
“It is exciting and hopefully the season ahead will be a successful one. We’ve just got to keep working hard through pre-season and get the best out of ourselves, learn new things from Dave and put that out on the field when the time comes.”