Castleford Tigers powerhouse Liam Watts gearing up for big year - after heart to heart with England boss Shaun Wane
An honest chat with England coach Shaun Wane has given Liam Watts extra motivation to do well for Castleford Tigers this year.
Watts is not in the current England performance group, but has an eye on selection for the World Cup, which begins in October.
And that is good news for the Tigers as the powerful front-rower knows his England chances depend on how he performs at club level.
“I sat down with Shaun Wane at the back end of last year,” Watts confirmed.
"I felt I didn’t deserve to be in that squad and he said if he had to pick a team then, I wouldn’t have been in it.
“He was right on the money, there was no beating around the bush - we are two honest guys and I said to him ‘it’s for the best, I will get my head down, training hard and if I am playing well come the back end of this year, then my hand is up and ready’.
“He said ‘I’ll pick you if you’re playing well’, so my focus is to play well for Castleford and that’s what allows me to go on and be an international.
“I have set a few short-term personal goals that will be getting reviewed week by week as we go on and I’ll be making sure I am playing my best rugby and giving myself every chance to get picked.”
Watts feels he is in a good place, three weeks out from Betfred Super League round one. He said: “Pre-season has been a little bit different for me this year.
"I am getting a bit older now, I have hit that 30 barrier, so it is more or less keeping the body in good nick and keeping the joints and muscles fit and healthy.
“I have been on a program called injury prevention, getting the body feeling good and it is probably the first pre-season I have enjoyed.
“That’s pretty rare, they are very demanding, getting yourself ready for the season, so hopefully, if it comes off and I have a good year, I’ll put my hand up to come back on this program next year.”
Tigers have a point to prove as a team after the disappointment of finishing eighth in 2020.
“We weren’t happy with how we performed in the second half of the season,” Watts admitted.
“You can say whatever you want about the situation, but it wasn’t up to the standards we have as a club.
“We came in before Christmas and had a three-day training camp and that really set the tone for what pre-season was going to be about.
“We have been taking it as a day-to-day process. Every day has been a focus and we’ve all had a personal input into what we’ve been focusing on and talked about what we want to work on as individuals. We’ve not been looking too far ahead, we’ve been looking at the here and now.”
Tigers have four new faces in their squad: Lewis Bienek from Hull, Huddersfield Giants duo Jordan Turner and Suaia Matagi and ex-Salford Red Devils star Niall Evalds.
Watts said: “Turns and Sui have given us a bit of added depth which we’ve needed over the last couple of years, with the injuries we’ve had in key positions.
"I think Niall is a player we have needed for quite some time now. It was a shame we lost Razor [Jordan Rankin] last year just when he was finding his feet, but we’ve not really had a full-back embedded in the club since Zak [Hardaker] left.
"It is nice to have Niall there. He is electrifying out of full-back and in training he has been causing defenders some problems.”