Kallum Watkins believes the future is bright for England despite their agonising defeat in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup final.
England’s 6-0 loss in an absorbing, defence-dominated match, likened by coach Wayne Bennett to State of Origin football, leaves them still looking for a first World Cup triumph since 1972.
It could have been so different but for a try that got away as England were mounting a strong second-half challenge at the Suncorp Stadium.
Watkins looked a certain scorer after being put through a gap by second rower Elliott Whitehead with his winger, Jermaine McGillvary, free on his outside, but he was felled by an ankle tap from a flying Josh Dugan and the Leeds centre was unable to regain his balance in time to supply the final pass.
“It seemed like slow motion,” Watkins said. “He caught me, then I thought, ‘I’m alright here’ but then I just stumbled.
“It would have been a certain try because I had Jerry on the outside and Elliott on my inside.
“It is what it is. I’m just immensely proud of the guys, the effort was superb. We had them on the rack, we just needed to take some opportunities.”
Australia scored the only try of the game through second rower Boyd Cordner after 14 minutes and, after stand-off Michael Morgan had one disallowed by video referee Ben Thaler for obstruction, were forced to hang on for their 11th title in 15 attempts.
“We fought really well,” Watkins added. “We had an opportunity to win the game but we just couldn’t get the result in the end. It could have gone either way, it shows we can battle with the best.”
Watkins, who has been one of the top performers in Super League for the last seven years, was one of a host of impressive performers for England as he finally delivered on the big stage.
“I’ve probably not done myself justice in that shirt in the past,” he said. “I felt that I needed to be better. This World Cup was an opportunity for me and I felt like I did pretty well. I’m pretty pleased but at the same time it’s all about lifting that trophy.”
Watkins, a key member of Leeds’s 2017 Grand Final-winning team, will still only be 30 when the next World Cup comes around and he is determined to be an even better player by then.
“It’s a long time to the next one but I can focus on things back at club level with Leeds and there is the Test series (against New Zealand) next year as well,” he said.
“It’s a big goal to repeat what we did this year and I’m going to work my socks off to be the best player I can be.”
It would have been a certain try because I had Jerry on the outside and Elliott on my inside. It is what it is. I’m just immensely proud of the guys, the effort was superb.Kallum Watkins
“There are still things to work on to improve myself as a player and I’ve plenty of time to do that.”
Whether Bennett will still be in charge of England’s next game, which is likely to be in June, in a matter of conjecture after his contract ran out at the end of Saturday’s game, but Watkins says the players are united in their desire to see him stay on.
“Of course, all the guys want him to stay but it’s his decision,” he said. “He’s certainly got the best out of us. He’s brought us all closer together as well.”