Kallum Watkins is under no illusions that sceptics and critics await him when he returns to a Super League field.
Just a year since an uninspiring end to his Leeds Rhinos career, he is now back in the competition after 12 months in the NRL.
Now almost 30, it’s been over two years since Watkins last showed the level of performance that saw him regarded as one of the world’s best centres.
That was down to an ACL injury that brought an abrupt end to his 2018 season, having just been handed the captaincy at Leeds following the retirement of club legend Danny McGuire.
When he returned, Watkins’ displays were the subject of enormous scrutiny as he evidently, and now openly admits, struggled to recapture his form. Many went as far as saying he was finished.
Now he is back having signed with Toronto, after he brought an end to his time in the NRL due to family reasons.
Many still believe his best days are behind him but Watkins disagrees. Opening up on the turbulent end to his time at Leeds, he admits he forced himself back on the field too early in an attempt to live up to the expectations of the captaincy.
“I put too much pressure on myself to come back too early,” he said.
“To be honest when I did get back I felt pretty good, but in terms of match fitness, power and strength, it just wasn’t there.
“I put that much pressure on myself but I should have done everything possible to make sure I was 100%.
“I just felt there wasn’t enough patience. But that’s part and parcel of being at a club like that, you’re expected to play well and win every week. There was the captaincy as well. When you hold that you’ve got to back up what the previous captains have done, you’ve got a responsibility to back it up.
“I felt I needed more time in terms of the injury, but in my own head I needed to play so I could influence the team, but as you could see, performances didn’t go well, and I know that too.
“But I didn’t get the patience, everyone expected me to play ten out of ten every week, people say it takes a year to get back from an injury like that.
“It was me who forced it, it was nothing to do with the club. The physios and the conditioners were spot on. But looking back, it was maybe a case of prolonging it, I was older than when I last did it, I was about 20 the first time, but I came back in the same amount of time. I should have waited until I was 100 per cent.”
What followed was a shock and controversial exit from the Rhinos despite having two years to run on his contract. The Rhinos cited salary cap pressures as Watkins made the move to Gold Coast.
“Going to Australia, there wasn’t much scrutiny at all. I knew what position Gold Coast was in, so I knew how to deal with it, but I felt the club was looking to build.
“It was tough playing-wise, the club wasn’t going through a good time, but they’ve got incredible staff there and I think Justin (Holbrook) will do really well there, they’ve got a good group of players there.”
The most important admission Watkins makes is that during his time in Australia, his knee recovered fully. Toronto will no doubt be encouraged by the reports that emerged down under about Watkins’ performances in the Titans’ pre-season trial games.
“It was something I needed to do. You know what, it was a very enjoyable time, to play in the NRL was something I wanted to do, especially at the end I can say I tried it. I’m glad I did it. It’s a new challenge that I needed and it was a test to see where I was at, and pre-season was an opportunity that went really well for me.”
Though his NRL dream is over, with Watkins returning to be closer to family, he’s so confident in his condition that he’s aiming for World Cup selection next year.
To achieve that he’ll have to perform for his new club, Toronto, who are under the tutelage of the man he won a string of trophies with in Brian McDermott.
“It’s another challenge that excites me. They’ve had a difficult start to the season, it was always going to be tough.
“But they look good in the sense of what they want to achieve, they go through different challenges with it being a Canadian team. It’s something different that will push me to perform.
“I know I’ve got a lot of people to prove wrong, that’s a challenge for me, to play the best I can and be better than what I have been in the past. I do have a lot of people to prove wrong and that’s motivation in itself, but I’m really determined.
“But If I want to be successful I have to be a part of a team that’s wanting the same goals as well. I believe the boys want that. They want to make history.
“I’m more than determined to get better as a player. The World Cup as well, I’m aiming for that. That’s a clear goal in my mind. When the season starts, I’ll be ready and I’m excited.”