ALMOST 10 months after a painful injury blow left him reeling, Leeds Rhinos captain Kallum Watkins is up and running again.
Watkins did not play last year after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury during a Magic Weekend defeat by Castleford Tigers in May.
He is now four games into his competitive comeback and was in good shape when Leeds beat Salford Red Devils nearly two weeks ago and then pushed St Helens all the way last Friday.
Rhinos’s season fell away spectacularly last year following Watkins’s lay-off – the second similar injury of his career – and his improving form has boosted their chances of play-off qualification in 2019.
“I am getting back into it,” said the 27-year-old England centre, in his second season as Leeds’s captain. “I knew it was going to take a few weeks to get into the pace of things and the intensity of it all.
“I felt really good last week, probably the best I’ve felt in terms of training and playing as well. I am getting pretty close.
“That’s the main thing for me, getting consistent with my performances and, hopefully, I will push on and get better.
“I do put a lot of pressure on myself, but that’s part and parcel of wanting to win and be the best you can be.”
Watkins will certainly need to be somewhere near his top form this evening, when personal duels in the backs could dictate the result.
He will be against Reece Lyne, the Trinity centre who made his England debut last year. On the opposite side, Leeds’s marquee signing Konrad Hurrell squares up to Wakefield’s Dream Team selection, Bill Tupou.
It is an enticing prospect and Watkins stressed: “It is exciting across the backline.
“Their wingers – Tom Johnstone and Bish (Ben Jones-Bishop) – are good as well, while we’ve got Tom Briscoe and Ash Handley.
“The full-backs, Ryan Hampshire and Jack Walker, are exciting, quick players and that makes it a good battle in terms of everyone gets an opportunity when they get the ball wide.
“They have got a big set in the middle as well so we will need to contain them.”
I do put a lot of pressure on myself, but that’s part and parcel of wanting to win and be the best you can be.
“Hopefully we can take some positives out of last week and bring that into this game and be better.
“We need to be in good form and do the right stuff in terms of being disciplined with the ball and without it.”
Of the 47 Super League meetings between the sides since Trinity entered the competition 20 years ago, Leeds have won 38 with only eight Wakefield victories and one draw, last year.
But Wakefield have finished above Leeds in the table in two of the last three seasons and Watkins is under no illusions about how dangerous they will be this evening.
“They have been doing well for the last couple of years and they are very well-coached by Chris Chester,” he added. “They have got some really good players, they are dangerous and as a team they work very hard together.
“They’ve got Danny Brough in there as well, so it’s going to be a difficult game – but we’re really looking forward to it.”
That sense of anticipation is heightened by the fact it is Leeds’s first competitive fixture at Headingley since last September.
Watkins stressed: “The first month has been tough, going away for all those games, but that is part of the challenge and we are excited for our first home game.
“Hopefully, we can get a really good crowd and a good performance as well. That’s a big thing, you have got to do well for the fans and the club as well so it’s really important to win your home games.
“We want to make it a fortress. Winning is the most important thing, but to do it at home pleases us and the fans as well. It is important to get that right.”
Rhinos began round four in eighth place in the table, having played one game more than most of their rivals, but Watkins feels they are steadily improving.
“Last week was disappointing in terms of the result, but we took some positives out of the performance.
“There were just a couple of areas we were a little bit off in which we are working on and learning from.
“It could have been more wins, we wanted to win all those games. In the first two we probably weren’t at our best, but it was the start of the season and bringing new players in, it is going to take a bit of time.
“We got the win against Salford and we were decent against St Helens.
“There was a period in the first half when we were on top and we should have capitalised on that a bit better.
“We let ourselves down in terms of letting them back into it and we were a bit erratic.
“We should have been more patient and that’s something we have to learn as a team.
“That’s all part of it and we have moved on now.”