Huddersfield Giants' Jake Wardle wants to savour "surreal" England experience again

JAKE Wardle described his surprise call-up to the England squad as “surreal” but, having now tasted the international scene, the young Huddersfield Giants centre will do his utmost to ensure it becomes a regular occurrence.

Huddersfield Giants' Jake Wardle in action against Catalans Dragons (ED SYKES/SWPIX)

Uncapped Wardle, 22, was one of four players drafted in at late notice by Shaun Wane to attend the coach’s first training session at Leeds Beckett University on Tuesday.

He named a 35-strong squad last week to start preparing for England’s opening game of RLWC2021 against Samoa at St James’s Park, Newcastle in October.

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However, with seven of those based in Australia and several more unable to take part in practice through injury, the new England coach invited some other Super League players to take part, too.

Wardle, an elegant and fleet-footed centre who has long been tipped as a future international, had impressed in Huddersfield’s 36-18 Challenge Cup win at Leigh Centurions on Sunday.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “It was after Sunday’s game, Watto (Giants coach Ian Watson) tipped me up that I’d probably get a phone call from Shaun Wane.

“It was on the way home I got that call. Shaun said he’d been impressed with what I did at the back end of last year and the start of this year and he’d like to invite me over to train with the squad which was quite surreal, to be honest.”

On the experience itself, Huddersfield-born Wardle added: “It was good. “It was a nice insight. We did a lot of the basics.

“To be honest, that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve found already: the best players seem to do the basics well.

“Hopefully that can only help out my game.

“We did some screening and managed to get on the field and get the ball in our hands.

“There’s been Zoom meetings throughout the year but, like Shaun Wane says, he just wants us on the field as much as he can. I enjoyed it.”

England head coach Shaun Wane enjoying his first training session in Leeds this week. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

Giants team-mate Matty English plus Leeds Rhinos duo Mikolaj Oledzki and Kruise Leeming were the others called up to take part.

A former England Academy international who is in Paul Anderson’s England Knights squad, Wardle was one of three Giants players who attended, 2017 World Cup final winger Jermaine McGillvary being the other.

“I was quite nervous,” he conceded.

“It’s something as a kid you’ve always dreamed of.

Huddersfield Giants' Jake Wardle scores against Salford Red Devils last autumn. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

“But everyone was very welcoming. It probably did help having Jerry (McGillvary) and Matty (English) there.

“But, to be fair, with all the Covid protocols in place, we were in small groups and I wasn’t with those two.

“I was with Josh Griffin, Daryl Clark and Joe Philbin.

“Everyone knows each other as you’re always playing against each other so it was nice and relaxed.”

England face the Combined Nations All Stars at Warrington in June as they build towards the World Cup.

In reality, Wardle faces stiff competition given Wane already has nine centres – Herbie Farnworth, Josh Griffin, Kallum Watkins, Oliver Gildart, Mark Percival, Toby King, Harry Newman, Zak Hardaker and Dan Sarginson – in his 35-man squad.

England's Daryl Clark takes a break in training this week with Jake Wardle, left. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

The Giants Academy product admitted: “There are a lot of good centres in the league at the minute.

"There’s a lot of talk about who is going to be playing but it’s just a case of focusing on myself.

“If I can play well week in, week out and play as well as I can, then if I get selected then that’s just a reward for what I’ve done throughout the year.

“If not, as long as I know I’ve done what I can do throughout the year, I can’t do much more.”

Wardle is certainly showing the right signs; he produced some electric moments in Sunday’s win, including a couple of scorching breaks and a fine assist for Wood.

Although the 2021 World Cup might come too soon for both, it is easy to see why some observers are predicting he and similarly talented Leeds Rhinos star Newman, 21, could eventually be England’s centre pairing for years to come.

Wardle looks to continue his progression when Giants visit Hull KR on Friday and find more of those exciting clean breaks that are becoming his hallmark.

Since joining from Salford Red Devils ahead of this campaign, Watson’s is trying to instil his own style on Huddersfield and the impressive centre looks like he could benefit from that ethos.

“It’s what you want; a bit of space,” added Wardle.

“It’s good. That’s where I can try and so something.

“It’s just about everyone doing their job for the team - whether it’s me in open space, whether it’s a prop -the way we’re playing is all about backing up and hopefully if we cna keep playing like we did Sunday, it will go well for the rest of the year.”

That was their first win under Watson after losses against Hull FC and Catalans Dragons.

Rovers are still seeking their maiden success of 2021 but, in three outings, have lost twice in Golden Point extra-time.

“We’re expecting a tough game,” said Wardle, although Giants could be bolstered by the return of captain Aidan Sezer for his first appearance of the season along with Ireland prop Ronan Michael.

“They throw the ball about so they are going to ask a lot.

“It’s how we turn up. They play a lot of expansive rugby and a lot of it is off the cuff.

“If we can deal with all that, and stick to our processes, hopefully we can come away with another win.”

Wardle did not feature in Huddersfield’s opener against Hull when Watson pitched new signing Ricky Leutele - the NRL Grand Final-winning centre who played for Toronto Wolfpack and Melbourne Storm last year - with long-serving Giants legend Leroy Cudjoe.

“It was disappointing but, like Watto said, I’ve had a small niggle through pre-season,” he explained.

“And that’s the good thing of having depth within the squad; there’s Ricky, Leroy and Sam Wood who can play centre.

“You want to play every game so that was the disappointing side of it.

“But Watto said, it’s a long season: you don’t want to be playing one game and then missing so many.

“He made that call and I respected that call.”

As it happened, Samoa international Leutele suffered a fractured hand against Hull, so Wardle quickly got his chance against Catalans.

“As soon as Ricky got injured, Watto pulled me aside and said he knew I’d not played the first game but this is a chance to show what I can do,” he added.

“When you’re training, it is different to playing.

“That’s all I’m trying to do; play as well as I can to cement my place within the team.

“I’m looking forward to Friday now to do the same.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to chasing his England ambitions, Wardle can have few better examples than Cudjoe.

The 32-year-old, who also hails from the West Yorkshire town, has played all his career at Huddersfield and earned ten caps for his country.

Cudjoe debuted for England in 2010 and started all their games in the last home World Cup in 2013.

“I’ve got on really well with Leory since I’ve been at the club,” said Wardle.

“He’s one of those who, if you ever need anything - both on and off the pitch - he is there.

“In terms of being a centre, he’s helped my game massively. We always talk about little bits we can both do better.

“I try to help him out where I can - but it’s mainly him helping me out.”

Huddersfield Giants' Leroy Cudjoe in action against Hull FC. (ALEX WHITEHEAD/SWPIX)