Ian Watson confident Kallum Watkins can make immediate impact for Salford

Salford coach Ian Watson hopes Kallum Watkins can hit the ground running when he makes his debut for the Red Devils on Friday night.

The former Leeds and Gold Coast Titans centre will play his first game for six months when Salford take on Catalans Dragons in the Challenge Cup quarter-final at St Helens.

The 29-year-old, who had a knee re-construction in 2019, was picked up by Toronto Wolfpack after cutting short his stay with the Titans for personal reasons but he was left in limbo when they pulled out of Super League.

Watkins, who won the Cup with Leeds at Wembley in 2014 and 2015, was thrown a lifeline by the Red Devils, who offered him a three-year deal, and Watson is looking forward to watching him in action.

Watson said: “He looks really good. He has kept himself in condition and certainly looks the part.

“You only get match fitness through playing so I’m sure he will be blowing at some point but I’m equally sure he’s smart enough to know when he can catch a breather. I’m sure he will handle that fine.”

Watkins will potentially go up against Israel Folau while Watson says he has a number of options to replaced the injured Niall Evalds at full-back, including Dan Sarginson, who played full-back for Wigan in their 2016 Grand Final win over Warrington.

Last season’s beaten Grand Finalists will be playing only their fourth game since the resumption, having been one of the clubs most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

They spent 14 days in isolation after beating Hull in their first game back, were without a fixture last weekend because of Toronto’s withdrawal and have suffered further disruption in the build-up to Friday’s cup-tie.

Watson said: “We’ve had a few issues this week. A few of the players’ family members had colds so we had to delay their return to training until they had their tests.

“Everybody passed but it meant we were without quite a few players for the first few days of this week.

“But having the week off and being able to train fully as a team has been good for us and should stand us in good stead.”

Catalans, who won the Cup in 2018, were pulled out of the hat first in each of the last two draws but have once more been forced to fly to England for the match.

Catalans coach Steve McNamara said: “We feel very disappointed this game isn’t at home, more for the financial impact it has on the club, not only with the loss of revenue but a huge cost going the other way as well.

“But we’ve got used to the travel. We have our own routine and it is exciting. There are eight of us left competing for the last four spots.”

The Catalans are boosted by the return of scrum-half Josh Drinkwater, hooker Michael McIlorum and prop Sam Moa.

The tie will be part of a quarter-final double-header which concludes with a repeat of the 2015 final between Leeds and Hull KR which got the go-ahead on Thursday morning when a second Rhinos player returned a negative Covid test.

Leeds returned to training on Thursday but without one un-named player who has received a second positive result and three others who were told to isolate as part of track and trace protocols.

Alex Sutcliffe and Brad Dwyer also miss the game through suspension and Bodene Thompson is cup-tied having played for Toronto earlier in the competition while Jordan Abdull is suspended for Rovers.

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