Where everyone else sees a player past his best, Salford coach Ian Watson believes he has just secured a player who will regain world-class status.
Salford Red Devils completed the signing of Kallum Watkins on a three-year deal last week, as revealed in League Express.
In doing so, they signed a six-time Super League champion, a World Cup Finalist and a player once regarded as one of the world’s best.
That was before an ACL injury in 2018 and a subsequent return to the field that saw him struggle to recapture anything like his best form.
That resulted in many writing off the 29-year-old, who subsequently went to the NRL before returning to Super League within a year to take up a deal at Toronto.
The Wolfpack’s struggles gave Salford an opportunity to swoop and, in doing so, Watson is adamant that they have a player who will prove he’s still as good as he was.
“I spent a lot of time watching his clips from the NRL and the trial games at the start of the year,” Watson said.
“I watched his movements more than anything. When you come off a bad injury it’s the movements that take time to come back, the ability to move in different directions and your timing. But I could tell he was in great condition.
“He came back for Leeds and didn’t look like Kallum Watkins. But when I watched those NRL games he looked to be in great condition.
When he was playing his movements were really good, his feet and his ability to get on the outside of players was clear.
“He got moved early in his second game to the wing and got asked to do things he wouldn’t normally do as a centre, but he still looked comfortable.
“It says a lot about his mentality and work ethic and having seen that, and then watching him with us, I’m really confident he’ll get back to his best. I’m confident he’ll get back to playing international rugby.
“I’m really sure he’ll be in contention for the World Cup next year, which would be great for our club and for him too.”
Watkins didn’t take too much convincing, either. In the past, attracting players to Salford, yet alone one of Watkins’ calibre, has proven challenging. But Watson believes the club’s ethic is now being bought into externally.
“Over the last few years we’ve been trying to build a winning environment, but we’ve had to do it time and time again, because we’ve lost so many key players.
“This year we’re on that process again, building off the back of a Grand Final team to get a team to understand each other and play together.
We thought we’d started to crack that with the Wigan game before lockdown and Kallum said he could see that and he understood where we’re at in developing this team.
“His experience was one of the big factors in bringing him here. He’s won a lot of trophies and he’s constantly been challenging at the top and playing in big finals. He’s a proven winner and a world class performer. He’ll lift our environment to another level and embedding him this year will be better for next year.
“When Marwan (Koukash) was here, it might have been a possibility to sign Kallum. In the recent past we’ve tried to build a team picking up quality players when they became available. Jacko’s (Jackson Hastings) reasons were well-documented, then someone like Justin Carney became available through a misdemeanour.
But Kallum is completely different; he’s a great pro and fantastic bloke and with what’s happened with Toronto we’ve been able to take advantage of that situation.”
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