Man of the moment Clark ready to mix it up with the game’s elite

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HE has drawn gasps of admiration from Super League fans and his voting peers alike, and double-award winner Daryl Clark sees no reason why that cannot now be extended worldwide.

The Castleford Tigers hooker achieved a notable feat when he not only lifted the Super League Young Player of the Year, but took home the Steve Prescott Man of Steel, as well, from Wednesday’s gala dinner in Manchester.

Castleford Tigers' Daryl Clark with his 2014 Steve Prescott Man of Steel Award and the Young Player of the Year. Picture: SWPIX.COM

Castleford Tigers' Daryl Clark with his 2014 Steve Prescott Man of Steel Award and the Young Player of the Year. Picture: SWPIX.COM

Yet there is little time for the 21-year-old to savour those moments given he flies out for the Four Nations in Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday having been told of his first England call-up just last weekend.

Given everything that has happened in the last few days, it is understandable Clark looked as dazed and bewildered as some of his shredded opponents when, amid all the glitz and glamour of the black-tie event at Lancashire Cricket Ground, the camera lights were still flashing constantly heading towards midnight.

But he is confident that, having helped hometown Castleford to their most memorable season in recent history, he will be able to bring his dazzling running skills to the international arena, too.

Few of the Australian and Kiwi superstars will know much about the lithe No 9 whose acceleration and guile have consistently ruined domestic teams in 2014. But he has a deep knowledge of those he will encounter.

Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith is a legend of the modern game and New Zealand’s Isaac Luke isn’t a bad hooker, either.

“It’s going to be tough but I suppose that’s what you want to do –test yourself against the best players in your position to see where you stand and how you can go against the best teams and players in the world,” said Clark.

“I see pretty much every game in the NRL (National RL).

“I’ve got them on series link and watch them when I have time through the week on my days off.

“Obviously, it’s a bit different watching to then playing against them.

“They are both great players so I’m sure they’ll surprise us with something.

“But I’m just looking to go there and enjoy it. It’s something new for me. I’ve never been involved with the England set-up and a tour, too, so that’s what I’m hoping to do – enjoy the experience.”

Clark thrives on the ability to benefit from a quick play the ball, something the likes of forceful props Andy Lynch and Craig Huby have continually done for Castleford this term.

It is no surprise he made fully 24 clean breaks in Super League, something which helped the Tigers to their best finish of fourth plus a Challenge Cup final.

An England squad containing those mountainous South Sydney Burgess twins – Tom and George – plus another NRL great in James Graham and Chris Hill, the Warrington Wolves prop Clark pipped to Man of Steel, should hopefully see that continue at the highest level.

“I owe a lot of credit to players around me for this year as, obviously, if they don’t play well then I’ve got no chance of playing well,” he conceded.

“It kind of ruins my game. But if you look at that England pack there’s some great players. I’m looking forward to mixing it with the best in the game.”

The Yorkshireman has, sensibly, had a few words with James Roby, too, the experienced England hooker who was also shortlisted for Man of Steel, but does not tour due to injury concerns.

“I was speaking to him at the awards,” said Clark.

“He just wished me luck and said ‘go over there and play well’. I know it’s big shoes to fill again. He’s been outstanding for years.”

Some felt Jamie Peacock, the veteran Leeds Rhinos prop who has been so astounding over the last two years, should have taken the 2014 Man of Steel.

Admittedly, rarely can a player have delivered such a great body of work during successive campaigns and not won once, Huddersfield Giants scrum-half Danny Brough denying him last year.

Indeed, if the former England captain had not already won the most prestigious individual award while with Bradford Bulls in 2003, the panel that ratifies the players’ poll may possibly have decided the talismanic 36-year-old should be honoured.

That said, Clark’s electric style has – like his club’s exciting football in general – been a breath of fresh air for the game and his success is undoubtedly merited.

“I’d have been happy just with the Young Player; with the other three nominees you couldn’t complain if it went to any,” he added. “They’ve all had great seasons so I was pretty speechless.

“I didn’t expect to go there and win both awards. It was a pretty amazing moment for me.

“And to win it in the first year it has been named after Steve Prescott is a special honour.

“The videos we watched beforehand showed just what a legend he was. I’m privileged.”

In doing so, Clark became only the third person in the 37-year history of the Man of Steel awards to claim both individual titles in the same season.

He received the Young Player of the Year from the previous person to do so, the legendary ex-Wigan and Great Britain full-back Joe Lydon who achieved the feat in 1984, before Clark was born.

The Young Player of the Year 12 months ago was Hull FC’s Ben Crooks – coincidentally, Clark’s classmate at Airedale High School – though the centre has endured a torrid time living up to that since.

You sense Clark, who has joined Warrington Wolves in a £185,000 deal for 2015, will not encounter such difficulties.

“It’s been an amazing season,” he concluded. “We got written off by a lot of people and I’d like to think we proved a lot wrong.

“It’s been a pretty special year for Castleford. You could say we dropped off at the end but I don’t think that should reflect on what’s been a great season.”