They say form is temporary, class is permanent – and Kallum Watkins’ 2016 season is a fine example of that.
Like the majority of Leeds’ squad this season, the England centre hasn’t been at the peak of his powers for the majority of the year, with numerous reshufflings in the backline, along with a string of defeats, badly affecting the team’s form.
But Watkins, whose exclusion from last year’s Man of Steel shortlist was strongly contested by some, has been in terrific form recently, reasserting himself as one of the sport’s top centres.
He has teammate and fellow international Brett Ferres to thank for his return to form, with the former Huddersfield man playing a key role in enabling Watkins the opportunity to thrive.
Ferres is a real handful with the ball in hand. Not only is he a strong carrier, but his ability to run defence-splitting lines mean he often needs to be heavily marked defensively. But then when you take his offloading game into account, he leaves defenders with a predicament. Double up on him and he can send a teammate towards the line with an offload, but he has a good chance of breaking the line if there’s only one defender confronting him.
Watkins has been a big benefactor of that presence, and he has made the most of the additional space afforded to him, using it to devastating effect.
“If you’re supporting him, you know you’ll get a chance,” Watkins told TotalRL. “The attack he poses is a huge threat and he’s shown his qualities all season. He works so hard, gets his carries in and he’s just an outstanding player.”
Defensively, the return of several senior players has eased the workload across the board, but with Ferres on Watkins’ inside, his defensive responsibilities aren’t as strenuous as they were a few months ago. The 25-year-old averaged over 31 tackles per game between April and June. In July, his average dropped to below 26.
Ferres deserves great credit for his current role in the Leeds team, given that he has played his entire career on the left side of the field. Making the transition to the other edge isn’t easy, particularly in attack.
“When I first came, Bri Mc (Brian McDermott) spoke about me playing on the right with Kallum,” Ferres told TotalRL. “We want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible, and I was probably signed with a view to creating a few opportunities for him. I think I’ve helped him a little bit defensively because he has a bit less work to do which is great for him. He’s not expected to do as much work and that will bring the best out of Kallum in attack, which you can see now as he’s full of confidence.”
But Brian McDermott’s decision to try out the combination on the right side of the field has worked perfectly, with Watkins now Leeds’ in-form player with eight tries in five games.
Internationally, that combination could prove useful for Wayne Bennett. While Both players will have competition for places, their current partnership is effective despite their limited time together. With Ben Currie and John Bateman fighting for spots with Ferres, the Leeds man might be used elsewhere on the field, but it definitely gives Bennett options moving forward.