He was carving up the Sydney competition before Kallum Watkins was born yet Ellery Hanley's heroics 30 years ago are helping to drive the latest English import to prove that outside backs can crack it in the NRL.

Watkins will make his NRL debut at right centre for the Titans against the Broncos on Saturday evening, taking what he hopes will be the first step in dispelling the notion that English backs traditionally struggle in the NRL.

The list of English forwards to have excelled in the NRL is a long one. Starting with the man considered by many as the greatest English forward ever to play in Australia, Malcolm Reilly, through to Kevin Ward, Adrian Morley, Denis Betts, Gareth Ellis and now Sam Burgess, James Graham and John Bateman, England’s big men have proven to be dominant forces in the league.

It’s been a different story, however, in the three-quarter line.

Regarded as the best player in the world at the time, Hanley was a superstar for the Tigers and Western Suburbs in the late 1980s, Martin Offiah scored 20 tries in 27 appearances for the Roosters and Dragons from 1989-1993, Andy Currier was a key figure in Balmain's run to the 1989 grand final and Gary Connolly played a season at Canterbury in 1993 in which they made it all the way to the preliminary final.

Brian Carney’s lone season for Newcastle in 2006 netted 16 tries while in more recent times England internationals such as Joe Burgess and Dan Sarginson failed to have the impact many expected.

Match: Titans v Broncos

Round 19 -

Full Time
Titans

Home Team

Titans

Scored 12 points
Broncos

Away Team

Broncos

Scored 34 points

Venue: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast

Match broadcasters:

  • Foxtel
  • LIVE PASS
  • KAYO

Although he was unable to explain it, that history played no deterrent in Watkins finally deciding to test himself in the NRL.

"I've seen some highlights of a few guys that have come out and done well, guys like Ellery Hanley and Martin Offiah,” said Watkins, a 21-Test veteran for England.

"I don't know why it's been tougher for outside backs.

"I'll know more after I play but training-wise it's pretty similar. It's a lot more intense but at the same time you play less games here compared to Super League where you play 30 games a season regardless of whether you're in the [Challenge] Cup or not.

"It's been difficult for the outside backs but for me I feel like if I'm going to challenge myself I want to challenge myself here and give it my best.

"I'll do everything that I can with the way I train and the way conduct myself on and off the field and perform consistently on the pitch.

"That's what I need to do to help get this team back to where they want to be.”

Long-time Leeds teammate Ryan Hall is currently averaging 177 metres per game in six outings for the Roosters and was someone Watkins talked to both prior to coming to Australia and since his arrival.

Sydney Roosters winger Ryan Hall.
Sydney Roosters winger Ryan Hall. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

In order to play this weekend, Watkins’ work visa application was fast-tracked and he can now look forward to a showdown with Hall and the Roosters in round 20.

"I spoke to him these past couple of weeks because we play the Roosters next week,” said Watkins, who played 250 top-grade games for Leeds from 2008-2019.

“It's going to be quite strange playing against each other.

"I just asked how their team is and how he's enjoying it and he said it's been really good and the boys are brilliant and it's pretty much the same here.

"It's just about getting to know the guys and enjoying the time and now getting to play with the boys.”

Since his arrival in Australia last month, Watkins has not only impressed teammates with his prowess in the gym but the insight he has provided in video review sessions.

"He's not trying to stamp his dominance or anything because he's been around a long time in the Super League and played in some big games,” said prop forward Jack Stockwell.

"I've noticed in video sessions that he'll add something in every now and then that maybe no one else has said or picked up.

"It's been good to get that outside perspective of a new player coming into the group late in the season.”