Kallum Watkins on NRL intensity and leaving Leeds on a wage cut

Kallum Watkins Gold Coast Titans NRL PA

Kallum Watkins has opened up on his eight-match NRL career with Gold Coast Titans, revealing he took a wage cut to get out of Leeds to make the move.

The England centre was released by the Rhinos mid-season in 2019 but his dreams of proving himself in Australia ended prematurely when his father’s illness during the Covid pandemic forced an abrupt return home the following year for family reasons.

The 31-year-old reveals the mental strain of that period in his life on this week’s Love Rugby League Podcast. Opening up on The Big Interview, Watkins reveals the reasons he left Leeds, and the “phenomenal” experience of playing in the NRL.

Watkins said: “I had lots of opportunities to go to the NRL, but I never had an agent and was never advised.

“It was only when I decided to go to the NRL that I took advice. It wasn’t ideal leaving Leeds mid-season, that was not something I wanted to do. But I felt I needed it. I wasn’t playing well, there was a lot of pressure on me as captain and I didn’t expect to be the captain. It was a very difficult situation but I felt the off-field stuff was the key factor.”


Kallum Watkins put his mental health first

Watkins says that bringing an end his trophy-rich stay at Headingley was only ever about prioritising his mental health at a time where he was struggling badly personally.

Watkins said: “The contract wasn’t the reason I went, I went because my off-field stuff wasn’t in the best of places and I just felt like I needed to get away.

“My game was affected, I wasn’t playing well at all. Leeds didn’t want me to stay and I felt that was coming. I left amicably and showed the club respect.

“I could have gone and said not nice things but that just wasn’t me. It’s a good club and the fans are passionate. I’d rather just be happy than get more money. I went to Gold Coast on less money. I just wasn’t in a good place and needed to get out of there.”

His move to play at the Titans was one that showed promised but was ultimately overtaken by more off-field issues when his father fell ill and his relationship with wife Sophie ended. 

Watkins said: “The NRL was a great experience, phenomenal, a totally different lifestyle. The family loved it, I was looked after the the Gold Coast and they have a vision. I wanted to be part of it but then Covid came and I was only there just under a year. 

“I’m glad I did go as I needed space away from my normal comforts. I wasn’t playing well though and they were in a bad situation themselves.

“When I got there the coach was let go and I thought I must have been bad luck. Pre-season was one of the best I’ve had with Justin Holbrook who just wanted everyone to enjoy the rugby.”


No room for error in the NRL

Watkins says the NRL remains a cut above Super League, primarily because teams play too many games in the UK.

He added: “There is no room for error in the NRL. You will get found out if you are making too many mistakes.

“The intensity is similar in Super League but because we play a lot more games here the teams are a lot more fatigued and tired and go into games not recovered as well as they are in the NRL which is 25 rounds hard graft.

“There is a good comparison and there isn’t much difference. The NRL is more strategic and defence-based otherwise you get picked to pieces.”

PODCAST: Kallum Watkins on playing in the pack, time in NRL & World Cup ambitions

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