LEEDS RHINOS’ Zak Hardaker is ready to finally get his “foot in the door” with England as he prepares for a belated second cap.
The full-back, named Steve Prescott Man of Steel following his stunning form with treble-winning Leeds this term, has not featured with England since a two-try debut against Wales in 2012.
He was thrown out of their World Cup squad the following year for a breach of discipline and was an unused member of Steve McNamara’s Four Nations squad that toured Australia 12 months ago.
However, with Sam Tomkins having lost his battle to shake off a knee injury that curtailed his NRL career with New Zealand Warriors, Hardaker is now in line to face France at Leigh on Saturday.
He was named in the 19-man squad yesterday and will almost certainly start at No 1.
If Hardaker produces anything like his stellar Leeds form, it would be hard for McNamara to leave him out of his plans for the first Test against New Zealand the following week, even if Tomkins does, as expected, return to full fitness.
On the prospect of playing, he said: “I’ve been in the England set-up now since 2011, first with England Knights, so I’ve always been there or thereabouts.
“But it’s been a big learning curve for myself really over the last four or five years.
“I know the progression I’ve made, but I know what level I can achieve and I’m trying to get my foot in the door.
“Last year was frustrating on one level, but on another it was one of the best times of my life, because I’d never been to Australia before.
“I’ve had a pretty good year to give myself the best opportunity.”
England are expected to ease past France before New Zealand – Four Nations champions after ending England’s hopes last year – offer the real examination.
Granted, the Kiwis are under-strength due to injuries but Hardaker insisted: “They have a terrific squad.
“They can only pick their best team available and they’ve done that.
“It’s going to be a very physical task but we’re confident; the new structure this year at Super League has generated better performances so that’s got to be good for England.
“Personally, I feel pretty good and am still buzzing from the year I’ve had so I’m looking forward to this chance.”