Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker sets England goal

Zak Hardaker.
Zak Hardaker.
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Zak Hardaker admits he needs a “massive year” for Leeds Rhinos as he looks to put his acrimonious World Cup departure behind him.

The prolific full-back was fined £2,500 and handed a written warning by his club after an off-field misdemeanour led to him leaving England’s camp last month.

Speaking about the episode for the first time, Hardaker admits his World Cup exit was a wasted opportunity but insists he is keen to play for his country again in the future.

“In a way it was a wasted chance, but I didn’t really get a shot at the team,” he said, having failed to break into the matchday 17 during any of England’s opening three games.

“I was really getting frustrated at not being able to play or getting the chance to play. I’m just glad it’s all over and done with now and I can concentrate on cracking on with Leeds.

“I made a mistake. It wasn’t a really big mistake I made but I made it.

“That’s happened now and I’m not looking back at that, just looking ahead with Leeds.

“I know this is a massive year for me now coming up.”

Hardaker will look to show his worth on the field and hopes he can rekindle his international career.

When asked if he had spoken with England coach Steve McNamara since leaving, Hardaker replied: “I’ve not spoken to anybody since it happened.

“They sent me home and that was that. It was all discussed at Leeds and then it was sorted.

“But I’m only 22 years old, so I’ve a few years left in me.

“I just want to crack on and if I perform well with Leeds hopefully I’ll play for England again.”

His first opportunity to shine for Rhinos will be in the Heatshot Festive Challenge against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats at Headingley Carnegie on December 26.

“I am looking forward to that,” said the Super League’s 2012 Young Player of the Year.

“I will be playing on Boxing Day and that’s what I’ve got my eye on now.

“We’ve got some new signings, so have Wakey and it should be a great game. I’m feeling good in training. It’s only my second week back and the first one was tough but I’m enjoying it.

“There’s a few lads still to come back but they will be soon and we’re all building towards next season.”

England winger Tom Briscoe, Leeds’ major capture from Hull FC, will bring more competition as Rhinos look to reclaim the Super League title they lost to Wigan Warriors.

Hardaker added: “Tom is a brilliant signing. He’s high class and has been in the England set-up for a few years now.

“That’s the sort of player Gary (Hetherington) has been trying to get in for us and shows where we want to be going.”

Meanwhile, Hardaker hopes the overall success of the World Cup will help build the game’s profile further.

“It was a brilliant tournament,” said the ex-Featherstone Rovers player. “ It was just what rugby league needed in general – not just Australia and England – and some of the games were outstanding. It wasn’t just the big names either but some of the smaller nations put on some great matches and there was 100 per cent going into everything.

“So many people turned out and to fill stadiums like it did has got to be good for the game.”

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