Kallum Watkins and his Salford team-mates head into Super League’s Magic Weekend with the play-offs firmly in sight; watch all six matches from St James’ Park in Newcastle live on Sky Sports on Saturday and Sunday
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 07/07/22 11:41pm
When Kallum Watkins joined Salford Red Devils just under two years ago, it would have been understandable if the six-time Super League champion were uncertain about what the future held.
Ill-fated spells with NRL side Gold Coast Titans and Toronto Wolfpack – the former being cut short by a return to the UK for family reasons and the latter seeing him leave without playing a game after the Canadian club withdrew from Super League during the pause brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic – left the former Leeds Rhinos player’s career at something at a crossroads at the age of 29.
But the switch to Salford, the club the Manchester-born Watkins represented as a junior before joining Leeds, has been revitalising to the extent he has been recalled to the England squad and the 31-year-old could not be happier with life at AJ Bell Stadium.
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“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Watkins told Sky Sports. “As soon as I first stepped through the door, they made me feel really welcome.
“I knew a lot of the boys before I came, which was good and made me settle in pretty easily.
“For me, I’m just enjoying my rugby and enjoying my time here, and I got involved in the England squad which was a goal for me to get to.
“I know I’ve worked really hard for it, but I’ve had a lot of people at the club who’ve helped me along the way so I’m always thankful for that as well.”
Watkins’ appearance for England in last month’s 18-4 win over the Combined Nations All Stars marked the first time he had pulled on the national team’s shirt since the agonising 6-0 defeat to Australia in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup final.
The postponement of what was meant to be last year’s World Cup in England to the end of this season has given him an opportunity to avenge that loss as part of Shaun Wane’s team which he admitted he thought had gone due to an ACL injury.
“It was amazing and when I had my injury last year, I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance,” Watkins said, reflecting on his England recall.
“The World Cup being postponed gave me an opportunity to say I’ve got one more chance to get back into that squad and I just took small goals at a time, ticked every box I needed to get back playing and just tried to perform the best I can on the field.
I’m just enjoying my rugby and enjoying my time here, and I got involved in the England squad which was a goal for me to get to.
Salford Red Devils’ Kallum Watkins
“Consistency has helped me get to that point, so I’m really pleased I got there. But there is still a long way to go prove I’m good enough to be part of that at the end of the year.”
That match against the Combined Nations saw Watkins line up in the position he made his name at centre, but this season has seen him transition into a second row for the Red Devils in Super League.
He is far from the first centre to make the move into the back row at a later stage of his career, but it is a move he is happy to make and is in no doubt showing his versatility will prove invaluable for both club and country.
“It’s been good, and we always have a laugh about it because I always see myself as playing centre but being part of the back row has been good,” Watkins said.
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Super League stars Ryan Brierley and Tony Gigot both say they are excited and determined to do well at Magic Weekend in Newcastle
“It’s been challenging, of course, but it’s adding another string to my bow which is good and a bit more versatility.
“If I can consistently play well in that position, but if I get the opportunity to play at centre and do well at that, it gives the team options, and the England squad options as well.
“I’m happy with where I’m playing and how I’m playing, which is the main thing. I’ve just got to keep progressing and pushing to be the best I can.”
As far as club level is concerned, Watkins and his Salford team-mates have their eyes firmly on the play-offs heading into their Magic Weekend showdown with fourth-placed Huddersfield Giants in Newcastle on Sunday.
Last week’s 32-24 win away to Warrington Wolves, which saw the Red Devils fight back from 16 points down to claim a memorable triumph, has lifted Paul Rowley’s side to just two points off the top six and the 2019 Grand Final runners-up have reason to feel optimistic.
“We need to keep believing in what we’re doing and it’s important we continue to work hard and show resilience at times when we’re going to be facing adversity, as all teams do,” Watkins said.
“We’re consistent in what we’re doing in training and how we prepare for games, we just need to keep that up.
“We’ve got some good players and some really top players who set the standard for us, so we just need to keep producing strong performances.”
Salford open the second day of Magic Weekend when they take on Huddersfield on Sunday (1pm kick-off). Watch all six Super League matches from St James’ Park live on Sky Sports on Saturday and Sunday.