NATIONAL coach Steve McNamara admits he is “excited” to see Leeds Rhinos’ Zak Hardaker in an England jersey once more tomorrow.
The full-back features against France at Leigh for the first time since debuting against Wales in 2012.
Hardaker’s progress on the international stage has, of course, been slowed due to the form of superstar Sam Tomkins, who returns to Wigan Warriors in 2016 after two years with New Zealand Warriors in the NRL.
However, he is not fit for England’s autumn opener and McNamara conceded: “I’m excited to see Zak.
“He’s had a tremendous season which has been well documented, and he’s produced some quality performances.
“He’s the current Man of Steel, which is no mean feat, and he’s had a tremendous year, rightly getting his opportunity this week.”
Before taking on Les Tricolores, England will venture over to Headingley tonight to see Hardaker’s club-mates in action against New Zealand, who they face themselves at Hull FC a week on Sunday.
“We’ll go take a look at them on Friday,” said McNamara.
“It’s going to be a good game; we’re hearing it’s a sell-out, plenty of tickets have been sold and as we’re playing them next week it’ll be good to take a look at their make-up on Friday.”
McNamara admitted he had dropped Wigan scrum-half Matty Smith for the French test – “there’s no injury with Matty; it’s pure selection. Everyone was fit for this week barring Sam” –and insisted he believes England are closing in on success.
They were denied a place in the Four Nations final last year after the Kiwis pipped them narrowly and it was New Zealand who edged them in the 2013 World Cup semi-final, too.
“We need to work hard of course; you only get success if you work hard,” he added.
“However, we’ve progressed well but just been agonisingly short – however that’s what it’s like at international level.
“Those games should be going down to the last minute, or depending on whether someone touches the ball down or not.
“That’s what Test matches are all about, and we’ve put ourselves in a strong position to progress forward.
“The change to the domestic competition in Super League has changed things hopefully; I watched the Grand Final and the balance of play was so close right until the end.”
“For me, our players who play in McNamara is delighted to see so many burgeoning players emerging for England with Wigan duo John Bateman and George Williams set for debuts.
“I’m really satisfied with our progression,” he said.
“We had an opposed session with the under-18s last week, and we did the same three years ago.
“The likes of Bateman, Williams and (Ben) Currie were playing for the younger group back then, and now they’re with us. There’s good integration between all the England teams at different levels.”