Hull FC recruited two young, talented English players during the winter as they look to tackle the problem of dealing with shrinking overseas player quotas. Dave Craven reports.
THERE is very much a sense of preparing for the future emanating from Hull FC.
The new Engage Super League season is less than a month away and so there has also to be an obvious immediacy to their work.
However, the club's two major signings for 2011 – Castleford loose forward Joe Westerman and Harlequins winger Will Sharp – should help fulfil both criteria.
Each is expected to have an impact at the KC in the campaign ahead but head coach Richard Agar is also envisaging them as key components of his side for a long time to come.
With both being young, talented English players, they will become invaluable as the overseas quota continues to be annually reduced while each has high hopes of using their transfers to a 'bigger' club to improve their own international chances.
Having made three marque captures last season – Test stars Sean Long, Craig Fitzgibbon and Mark O'Meley – the arrival of this duo has supplemented the Hull cause as they set their sights for a first Grand Final since 2006.
Many would argue Westerman is already a marque player in his own right given the Airlie Birds paid around 100,000 to persuade Castleford to let him leave.
However, the gifted 21-year-old, who won Super League's young player-of-the-year award in 2008, insists he is far from the finished article and has a significant battle on just to earn his place at the KC Stadium.
While he has been allocated the No 11 jersey, Westerman knows it matters little and the likes of Willie Manu, Danny Tickle and the formidable Australian Craig Fitzgibbon are in front of him when it comes to the strong Hull back-row.
"I think this year's about learning," he told the Yorkshire Post, having signed a deal until 2014.
"I need to be going well and playing off these quality players around me.
"Rich wants me playing a bit more with the ball and running lines out wide but it is down to me.
"I've got to be playing well every week and hopefully push on to get international honours this year but I definitely need some regular form."
Westerman's star had waned slightly at Castleford where he admits the pressure of being a hometown product did sometimes affect his performances.
He failed to earn a place in England's Four Nations because of those inconsistencies but a fresh start with the Airlie Birds may help him get back on track along his initial career path.
However, Hull is just as fanatical a rugby hotbed as Castleford so will he suffer the same sort of stifling in East Yorkshire?
"I've not really been around here (Hull) much yet," he said.
"I go training and then go home (to Castleford).
"It'll be different when the season starts and I'll answer that question then but there is only me
who can do it. I know if the team plays well it'll make it easier but it's down to me and that's where I want to be at.
"I'm looking forward to getting involved."
Being taken under the wing of the veteran State of Origin star
Fitzgibbon this season will certainly enhance Westerman's
development and Agar hopes the youngster will glean plenty from that experience.
Nigerian-born Sharp, meanwhile, is another player hoping to make his mark in 2011 and, given his life experiences so far, seems ready for any challenge.
The effervescent wideman, who has proved a potent finisher with Harlequins, has revealed how he battled through a drink and drug problem during his teenage years, a deeply troubled period which eventually led to him being
sectioned under the Mental Health Act when aged just 18.
However, Sharp – who was brought up in both Bradford and London – overcame his demons and found solace in rugby league to the extent where now, at the age of 24, he is being tipped as a future England international.
"Those things that happened helped me," he recalled.
"If it hadn't have happened I wouldn't be here now but I don't really think about it.
"There was lots of stuff going on emotionally but that was it and it wasn't for long.
"I'm playing rugby league now and really excited ahead of the new season with Hull."
Sharp joined on a two-year contract with an option for a third year and is bidding to fill the problematic right-wing slot now vacated by the departure of Mark Calderwood.
On the opposite side is Tom Briscoe, a talented young player himself who came through the ranks at Hull to establish himself as an England international.
"I'm aiming to do that too," said Sharp, whose pace and finishing prowess has proved a handful for Super League opponents.
"I want to play for England as soon as possible but I'll have to see what happens. I'm just looking forward to getting started with Hull."
That comes against city rivals Hull KR with the Super League season launch in Cardiff on February 13.