Watkins aiming to hit new heights for England

AT THE age of 26, Kallum Watkins admits he has still yet to show his best in England colours, something the Leeds Rhinos star hopes to remedy in the weeks ahead.

Leeds Rhinos Kallum Watkins will head Down Under tomorrow with the England World Cup squad having won a third Grand Final with his club last Saturday (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire).

Fresh from winning a third Grand Final with his West Yorkshire club, he flies out with the national squad to Australia tomorrow ahead of their latest bid to at last win a global tournament.

There is no doubting Watkins’s quality – the lean three-quarter has terrorised Super League defences with his pace, footwork and guile for years.

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However, he has conceded he has so far struggled to replicate that on the biggest stage.

He debuted against Wales in 2012 and has been a mainstay ever since, first under Steve McNamara and now Wayne Bennett.

Granted, nine tries in 20 Tests is no shabby record, but Watkins does believe England fans are still to witness his greatest form.

“For me, in an individual kind of way, then, yes, definitely,” he said.

“I’ve still not hit the heights yet in terms of internationals.

“For me that’s my goal – to play the best I can.”

Watkins, who scored two tries when ever-present in England’s 2013 World Cup campaign, says there are some mitigating factors.

“In terms of club level, we play differently,” he said.

“We like to throw the ball around a little bit more at Leeds; it’s sort of an off-the-cuff style.

“With England it’s a lot more about keeping hold of the ball, applying a lot more pressure on opponents and being really disciplined in certain areas.

“When I get the chance I have to make the most of it. It’s all about being confident and believing in myself that I can do a good job.

“I’ve just got to do it against the big teams. I just want to win and perform well, but the main thing is the team.”

Bennett certainly has faith in the classy Watkins; Michael Shenton, the Castleford Tigers captain who has excelled this term and earned Dream Team representation with St Helens’ Mark Percival, will be left at home when the squad departs.

Furthermore, Bennett has chosen just two specialist centres in Watkins and Percival although the likes of second-rows John Bateman and Ben Currie plus Warrington’s utility Stefan Ratchford can all slot in there.

Watkins, meanwhile, reckons England can replicate Leeds’s example, by winning a competition in which few give them a chance; he helped Rhinos upset the odds with Saturday’s Grand Final 24-6 win against favourites Castleford Tigers.

Hosts Australia are expected to retain the World Cup, but Watkins is convinced it is a great opportunity for England.

“We have gone under the radar (at Leeds) and we’ve been pretty much written off in terms of getting to the Grand Final,” he said.

“We were written off in the Grand Final as well, because Cas have been playing so well and they’ve been the best team by a mile. That took the pressure off us and we just concentrated on what we needed to do.

“We needed to come up with a performance (in the Grand Final) and we certainly did that.

“It’s the same for England; it is all about belief – believing in your team-mates, knowing the talent we’ve got, but also putting in the hard work.”

England’s elite performance group have held regular meetings throughout the season.

The World Cup squad will have a week to prepare before a warm-up game against Affiliated States in Perth on Friday, October 20.

They open the tournament against the Kangaroos in Melbourne a week later before group ties against Lebanon and France.

Watkins said: “The positive with England is spending time together. I think that time is going to be crucial for us and we have got to work hard now towards the first game in Australia.

“Saturday was an example of that and how when the odds are against us and the pressure’s off we can produce the goods.”

Watkins is still on a high from the Old Trafford win, when he landed three goals from four attempts.

“I am really chuffed,” he said. “I am really proud of the boys. After the 2015 Grand Final three key players and key leaders left and the journey has been really tough.

“But it’s developed a lot of players and given a lot of players experience. Now it’s England, though. The aim is to go win the World Cup and we have to produce our best performances to do that.”

Former Castleford and Sheffield Eagles captain Andrew Henderson, 38, has left his role as London Broncos’ head coach to be an assistant at Warrington.