Rhinos’ Watkins ready to emerge from some testing times

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LEEDS RHINOS centre Kallum Watkins hopes his Four Nations experience will see him improve even further in Super League XX.

The England international is already rated as one of the competition’s leading players but feels his first taste of action Down Under will enhance his game again.

Leeds Rhinos' 'Kallum Watkins.

Leeds Rhinos' 'Kallum Watkins.

Watkins played in all three Tests for Steve McNamara’s side last autumn, scoring tries against Samoa and Australia.

A youthful England just missed out on victories over the Kangaroos and eventual winners New Zealand but Watkins said: “It was fantastic and a massive learning point for me.

“In terms of results, it didn’t go our way but we took positives as we’re a young side. The players put in did a great job. We were just a little bit off but it could have been so different. The guys were fantastic in camp and it was really enjoyable.

“The younger players will take that experience on board and, hopefully, we can progress further in the future. Personally, it certainly gave me a lot of confidence.

“Obviously it’s tough to compete with them but it’s something you can take in, experience when it comes around again and, hopefully, change those results.”

Watkins knows Leeds are in need of a big season, too.

For all that they lifted the Challenge Cup last term – for the first time since 1999 – their Super League campaign petered out in disappointing style with a six-game losing run culminating in a dire play-off exit at home to Catalan Dragons.

Looking back, Watkins admitted it was a “very emotional” period and added: “It was a great time to win the Challenge Cup. But it took it out of us a little at the back end of the season. It didn’t go well and that’s from our own doing.

“We knew that going into the play-offs we weren’t in great form and needed to do something right but we just didn’t get the result. That’s life.

“It’s something we have to learn from. Our players have been used to it before when it’s not been our time and we just work on from it. Everyone has worked hard, we had a great training camp in Florida and now we’re just looking forward to starting at Hull KR next Sunday.”

Leeds coach Brian McDermott has tasked his side with improving their accuracy in execution during 2015 and, therefore, enabling the likes of strike players such as Watkins to gain more scoring opportunities.

There has also been a move towards a more expansive style of play and the 23-year-old – who scored 13 tries in 30 games last term – admitted: “It is nice to get more ball and the opportunity to get more ball as well.

“We are looking at that and expanding our play a bit.

“A lot of hard work’s been put in throughout pre-season so obviously we’ve been trying it in the friendlies.

“It’s looking pretty good so far but there’s some parts we need to work on and that’s what these games are for.

“You can see we’ve been trying to play a little bit more than we have in the past and creating ourselves opportunities to play well and in a good style as well.

“But it’s a matter of doing it on the day now. There’s a lot of hard work, lot of practice and obviously there’s a bit of pressure in a game, too, and you have to be willing to make those plays count.”

This season is crucial for Hull KR, who, having finished ninth in 2014, realise the same result again will see them playing against Championship sides come the split after 23 rounds and in danger of relegation.

But they have completed some major recruitment, including the capture of prop Ryan Bailey from Leeds, and Watkins expects a fierce encounter.

Rhinos won there 34-6 on the opening day last season, Watkins scoring a try, but it had been 6-6 following an arduous first half.

“They will be very tough and enthusiastic,” he said. “We went there first round last year. There was a bumper crowd and it’s a tough place to go and win, so we have got to battle through that again and prepare for the best Hull KR side.

“They’ve had a lot of changes and will want to prove they’re good changes but it’s important for us to start there and get a win.

“With the new structure, there is pressure to start the year well.”