Pool switch pays off for Josh Watkins

Lawson teenager Josh Watkins will represent Australia in the U20s competition at the 2014 Pan Pacific Water Polo Festival in Auckland from July 5-9.

Lawson teenager Josh Watkins will represent Australia in the U20s competition at the 2014 Pan Pacific Water Polo Festival in Auckland from July 5-9.

What happens above and below the water's surface in the gruelling sport of water polo can be pools apart - and rising teenage star Josh Watkins is lapping it all up at the highest level.

On the back of great form for the NSW U18s at the recent National Championships in Perth - and for his club side UTS Wests Magpies - the Lawson resident was selected in the Australian 'born in 1997' squad to compete at the 2014 Pan Pacific Water Polo Festival in Auckland from July 5-9.

The selection is an even more impressive achievement, given Watkins only discovered the sport five years ago.

"When I was in primary school I started off in a swimming squad but by Year 5 I was getting sick of following the straight black line," the Winmalee High Year 11 student said.

"I played water polo first in Year 7 at a Combined High Schools sports gala day and I loved the team aspect. For me it was more social than swimming and much more fun."

He also enjoyed the physicality of water polo.

"It lives up to the hype - there is kicking and pulling going on underwater and it's an accepted part of the game.

"If the referee sees it you get a 'kick out' penalty of 20 seconds [like a sin bin] and you are only allowed three of those per match."

A growing passion for the sport matched with natural ability and drive ensured Watkins a quick rise up water polo's junior ranks.

By the end of Year 8 he was selected in the NSW Institute of Sport's elite training program.

He plays in the driver position, that lurks around the curved perimeter line about five metres from goal in both attack and defence.

"There are two drivers per team and they need to be very quick and agile, have an accurate passing game and be able to press into the goal zone.

"I'm not the tallest and don't have the longest arm reach, so I pride myself on playing smart and on my speed, which I think comes from my swimming background.

"In water polo there is no resting while you're in the water and you need to be able to swim 20 metres in about 10 seconds.

"Because of the position I play, my coach expects me to be fully fit so I'd be playing three-quarters to a whole game [30 to 40 minutes] every time."

Australia's junior teams head coach Andrei Kovalenko congratulated all players selected in the 15-man squad, adding "it was not easy to narrow down our options because it is quite a strong generation".

"For these young players it is a very important season as we are about to start our campaign for the Youth World Championships in two years, where we have a chance to have a good result."

Watkins said his goal for the Pan Pacs tournament is "to play to the best of my ability and learn from the international experience".

"In the longer term I hope to play in the national league, play professionally for a European club and one day play for the Sharks [Australia's national men's team]."

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