MUCH more has happened to Daryl Clark since he capped an already remarkable season by lifting both the prestigious ‘Man of Steel’ and Super League ‘Young Player of the Year’ awards.
Having proved the star of 2014 with Castleford Tigers, the rapid hooker then toured with England, making his debut in the Four Nations and duly turning the heads of not only bemused defenders Down Under but impressed natives, too.
Australians and Kiwis may have known little about the 21-year-old prior to the tournament but they were certainly aware of his prowess afterwards; England may have fallen just short again but Clark’s star continued to rise.
On his return, he has uprooted from the familiar surroundings of Wheldon Road and joined Warrington Wolves in a £180,000 switch, scoring his first try for them with a trademark darting run during the 7-6 win at Hull FC a week ago.
Clark has settled in seamlessly to help his new employers to a 100 per cent start in Super League, something which clearly bodes well as they prepare for another new experience – the inaugural World Club Series.
“Not many teams get chance to play these sorts of games – against the Aussies in a World Club Series,” he told The Yorkshire Post as Warrington prepared to kick-off the expanded format tonight against National Rugby League side St George-Illawarra Dragons.
“It is one of the main reasons I moved across to a big team like Warrington, to be involved in stuff like this – big games – and be competing for silverware year in, year out.
“We’ve not seen many clips from St George. I think they’ve only played one friendly game so it will be pretty hard to see and get footage of this year.
“But we know they are a dangerous team. You just have to look at their half-backs – Benji (Marshall) and Gaz Widdop – two creative players.
“With those in there, they will be an attacking threat and we know we’ll have to be on if we want anything from this game.”
Whereas the World Club Challenge has been a one-off game between the Super League and NRL champions since the turn of the millennium, it has been increased to six clubs this time around, essentially pitting the northern and southern hemisphere competitions together over a three-match series. Wigan Warriors host Brisbane Broncos – a rematch of their 1997 classic – tomorrow night before the final occurs on Sunday evening between St Helens and South Sydney for the main crown.
As it stands, Warrington are fighting for Team Super League and Clark said: “Our aim is to get us (Super League) off to a winning start.
“Everyone’s got this perception that the NRL is so much better and a much better league. Maybe in some aspects it is.
“But maybe if the English teams chalk up a couple of wins it might change some peoples’ minds and make them realise it’s not as big a gap as some people think. It’s great to have a crack at them.”
Clark is looking forward to developing his game under the astute eye of revered Australian Tony Smith, the former Leeds Rhinos and England coach who has transformed Warrington and, of course, was a former St George player, featuring in the 1992 Grand Final.
“There’s always room for improvement and another reason why I’m here is so Tony can find those and make me a better player,” he said.
“I’ve only been in training since January 5th but he’s been good. We’ve done a lot of ball work and team stuff. We were a bit scratchy in the first two games but it’s nice to chalk a couple of early wins off and, hopefully, we’ll keep getting better.
“It’s good to get off the mark with a try, too, and now I can’t wait to get into Friday’s game.”
Clark, who reached Wembley with home-town Castleford last season, has already proven he can handle the pressure of the big occasion his international experiences in the autumn should hold him in good stead for tonight’s contest.
He came off the bench to instantly rip Samoa open in his first game, setting up Castleford team-mate Michael Shenton for a try, and then his pace and direct approach proved a nuisance against both Australia and New Zealand.
“I really enjoyed it,” recalled Clark. “It’s something I’d wanted to do since being a young kid.
“Everyone wants to play at the highest level and for your country and to do that in Australia, on a tour, and to make your debut, too, like that was pretty special.
“It was my first time over there as well. I loved the experience and hopefully I can be involved again in the future.”
That is a given – you can imagine England coach Steve McNamara building his side around the dynamic rake – but for now club football takes centre stage. And what about that fee? Is it a burden on his young shoulders?
“I don’t think too much about it,” insisted Clark, who has moved with his girlfriend from Castleford to Sutton near St Helens. “That had nowt to do with me. It was sorted out between both clubs. They made the deal.”
Nothing much seems to bother the relaxed Yorkshireman. Perhaps that is why Clark is able to play so freely, something St George are likely to discover first-hand this evening.