Ambitious Hardaker eyes No 1 prize with England

USURPING superstar Sam Tomkins’s place in the England side will surely be one of the more difficult tasks of 2015 yet Leeds Rhinos’ Zak Hardaker has vowed to make sure national coach Steve McNamara has no other choice.

Leeds Rhinos and England full-back Zak Hardaker. Picture: Guzelian.

The 23-year-old full-back certainly enjoyed a superb campaign last time out, producing possibly the best football of his career and earning a place in the Super League Dream Team.

Indeed, Hardaker fully warranted his place in England’s squad for their Four Nations trip in the autumn, but he was unable to force his way into the matchday squad and returned having not played a single minute of action.

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Given Tomkins’s stature – he commanded a world record £700,000 fee when moving from Wigan Warriors to New Zealand Warriors at the end of 2013 – and the fact that few modern-day coaches operate with a second full-back on the bench, it was perhaps no real surprise.

Leeds Rhinos and England full-back Zak Hardaker. Picture: Guzelian.

However, Hardaker insists he can make the England No 1 jersey his own in time for the three Test series versus touring New Zealand this autumn.

Asked how he was going to do that, he told The Yorkshire Post: “I’m not sure. It is tough, isn’t it?

“I just wish I’d have had a game (at Four Nations). That’s all I ask for – just a game.

“I thought I’d played pretty well last year. If you go on my performance and his I’d say I had the better year. But obviously him playing in Australia and him being the No 1, it’s his shirt isn’t it?

“This year’s my year, though, and I’m really going to give it some so there’ll be no questions asked about whose shirt it should be by the end of 2015. That’s my aim. I want to be England full-back.

“A few people are saying about (Salford’s) Kevin Locke and (Catalan’s) Morgan Escare this season so first I want to stamp my authority on Super League. But, honestly, I’ll have a really big year so when it comes to it there can be no arguments who has the 
No 1 shirt as it will be me.

“Having said that, Ash Golding, the young full-back at Leeds, has been tearing it up while I’ve been off so I have to watch my back as he might pinch my shirt here.”

Hardaker has definitely regained the trust of McNamara after, infamously, being sent home from the 2013 World Cup squad due to a drink-related incident. Again, he had been unused in that tournament and the frustration of not being involved on the playing side while still having to adhere to the professionalism of a squad in camp played its part in his erroneous decision-making.

Of course, the frustration of non-selection could face him again during a four-week trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Hardaker admitted: “Steve and I spoke about the possibility of me not getting picked and what would I be like, but I told him I’d be fine and that before was just a one-off.

“And it was brilliant. I was disappointed like everyone else who didn’t play – mad, disappointed, upset, all those things go through your head – and obviously being in Australia you’re a million miles away from your family.

“But we trained and got to explore so much of the country. I loved that.

“You must learn from your mistakes.

“If you don’t, I probably won’t play for England again. But I have learned from them.”

York City Knights have had to move Sunday’s friendly with Hull FC from York City’s Bootham Crescent to Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, at a loss of £10,000.

Hull FC have signed ex-St Helens hooker Stuart Howarth, 24, on a one-year deal after his release from Salford Red Devils.