LIAM WATTS says he will get over his Great Britain snub and instead try to prove his worth to Wayne Bennett in time for England’s 2021 World Cup campaign.
The hard-running Castleford Tigers prop will represent his country tomorrow when he lines up for England in the inaugural World Cup Nines in Sydney.
However, unlike team-mates such as Ryan Hall, Jake Connor and Jermaine McGillvary, he is not one of the 11 in the 16-strong Nines squad who will be flying on to Auckland afterwards for Great Britain’s historic tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Uncapped Watts, hoping to make his Test debut after a stellar campaign for Castleford, was left out of Bennett’s 24-man squad for the first Lions trip in 13 years.
It caused shock amongst many fans and pundits alike given he has clearly been one of the best forwards in Super League this term and was shortlisted for the prestigious Steve Prescott Man of Steel as its best player.
The 29-year-old missed the Lions cut this week, though, with Bennett not short of front-rows.
He named five all with plenty of international experience: newly-installed Great Britain captain James Graham, South Sydney’s Tom Burgess, St Helens Grand Final-winning duo Alex Walmsley and Luke Thompson plus – the player arguably most at risk – Warrington Wolves’ Chris Hill.
Speaking in front of the Sydney Opera House yesterday, at the launch of the World Cup Nines, Watts said: “Obviously I’m disappointed but it’s just one of those things. I’m not going to get my head down about it.
“I’ll stay positive and just keep training and working hard and just try and make an impression on Wayne and the coaching staff.
“The bigger picture here for me moving forward is just trying to keep giving my best and being in a good frame of mind.”
Watts, of course, is still on standby for the Lions and has ample chance to demonstrate to Bennett his strength of character and quality during the next few days playing under him for England Nines.
Moreover, the veteran coach often speaks about players making a journey and progressing and plenty of individuals in the current Lions squad have done just that before maturing to Test level.
Watts only got his first actual selection to the England training squad in March – Bennett is in his fourth year in charge – and is now on that same pathway.
Asked if he hopes to have one foot in the door for the home World Cup in 2021, the Castleford-born player replied: “Yes, definitely. There’s a bigger progression in this.
“Obviously not making GB was disappointing but on the bigger scale is the World Cup in 2021 and that’s my real focus.
“I’ve got my foot in the door and given myself every chance but I have to keep playing well and keeping in the good books.”
England’s first game in the World Cup Nines at Parramatta’s Bankwest Stadium is against Wales tomorrow morning (9.10am BST) directly after the women’s side open against Papua New Guinea.
Bennett’s team then face Lebanon on Saturday (2.20am) and France (5.25am) as they seek to qualify for the semi-finals and final later that day.
All 12 sides in the tournament were on show yesterday for the media launch with Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge dominating the skyline. The competition is being televised live by Sky Sports and commands some of the biggest names in the sport.
Tonga star Jason Taumalolo, who will line up against the Lions in Hamilton in the opening Test on Saturday week, is included along with Kiwi legend Shaun Johnson and some of the most exciting young talents in the NRL.
Watts, who played in Sydney for Hull FC on their tour of New South Wales last year, said: “It’s going to be a big event.
“It’s a great place, one of the best cities I’ve ever been to and it’ll be nice to get out there and rise to the occasion on Friday and Saturday.
“We had a light session on the first day after all the travelling but we’ve had some intense ones since and we’ll have one more on Thursday before getting into it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bennett hopes the World Cup Nines will be the first of many and said: “We’ve got a history of getting out of things too quick. Hopefully, we’ll stay with it and add something to the rugby league calendar.
“It’s good for all the nations to be here and give young guys opportunities without actually playing full international (games)
“It’s great to see all the teams and the women are here. It’s not easy to do but we’ve just got to be consistent with it and have the confidence that it can work for us and grow the game.”