KALLUM Watkins will go from ball boy to one of his Salford heroes after securing an emotional return home.
The former England international snubbed interest from three rugby union clubs to sign a three-year deal at the Red Devils after being caught up in the mess of Toronto Wolfpack.
It will see the 29-year-old's career go full circle from being a season ticket holder as a kid and a ball boy for three years.
However, he confessed new boss Ian Watson was NOT one of his favourite players as playing in front of Salford-supporting family and friends only adds motivation.
Watkins, who grew up in nearby Stretford and played for Salford amateur clubs Langworthy Reds and Folly Lane, said: “Gary Broadbent was my first favourite player, he was quality.
“Then it was the likes of Malcolm Alker and Stuart Littler, then I was Paul Highton. I reckon I’d have watched Ian play early on but I wouldn’t have watched him much.
“My brother, Kash, played alongside him though at Swinton and was then coached by him. He’s always had good wraps about him.
“I was eight-years-old when I became a season ticket holder and because my dad liked to get to games early, I started talking to the lads who were ball boys then and got an opportunity when I was nine or 10.
“I did it until I was 13, while I was playing my rugby in the Salford area. They were good times back then.
“Some of the lads I played with still watch Salford now, as do my family but that’s a challenge in itself and it gives me a lot of motivation – doing it for Salford would make it even more special.
“I had a look at rugby union. I considered them but I felt Salford is the right place for me.
“I spoke to Ian and he was great in terms of telling me what he wants me to bring to the team, there’s that feeling of coming back to where it all started too.”
Watkins found himself looking for another club after Toronto pulled out of Super League for 2020 before he had even trained with them.
He returned to England from NRL side Gold Coast Titans when father Garry contracted Covid-19.
But he insists he is not bitter at how the Canadian side acted.
He added after admitting he essentially trained in a local park before gyms reopened: “It’s a relief to get things sorted, things went back and forth for a few weeks before they were ironed out.
“I wanted to see what’s going on in terms of their new ownership but I felt with the situation I was in, but more importantly other players and staff, that it was right to go.
“It’s just one of those things really with the times we’re in. I’m just sorry for the players and staff who haven’t been paid.
“They’re doing it tough at the minute. I just hope everything comes out well for them. I’m not going to badmouth Toronto, that’s not me.”
Watkins, whose break in the 2017 World Cup final was halted as England lost to Australia 6-0, admits he has been through the wringer – and not just because of Toronto.
A serious knee injury set him back, then he left Leeds for Australia in mid-season, only to return and find himself wondering what had happened after signing for Toronto.
But he is adamant he can come good and sees no reason why last year's Grand Final appearance cannot be built on as he hopes to make his debut in next week’s Challenge Cup quarter final against Catalans.
He told SunSport: “I’ll admit I watched the Grand Final while I was in Australia, I watched all the play-off games.
“And why shouldn’t Salford be ambitious? Yes, they made the Grand Final last year but they’d been close for a few years beforehand.
“Making the Grand Final was a great moment for the club but there’s no doubt, that was not a fluke.”
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