THE icing on the cake. That’s how Leeds Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker described England’s Test series win over New Zealand.
A 20-14 success in the final game wrapped up a 2-1 tournament win and meant Hardaker got his hands on a fourth trophy of the season after Challenge Cup, league leaders’ shield and Grand Final successes with Rhinos.
Saturday was the Man of Steel’s 35th game of a hectic, nine-month campaign and he said: “It is quality icing on a great cake!
“It has been a tough year for myself, with some of the things I’ve gone through, but to achieve what we did with Leeds, to get Man of Steel, to get picked in the England team and then to play and win the series, it has been a tremendous year.”
But Hardaker insisted this year hasn’t been about him as an individual.
“It is not just myself, it is the team I am involved in,” he stressed.
“Leeds this year were a fantastic team and the England squad were fantastic as well.
“I knew deep down if the lads produced an eight or nine out of 10 performance we’d get the victory – and we’ve done it.”
England will face Australia, New Zealand and Scotland in a Four Nations series next year, before a World Cup in 2017.
Hardaker reckons the current side will only get better. He said: “We only had 100 caps between us, they had 200-odd, even though they had a few players missing.
“We weren’t at full-strength either, but the players we did have have been incredible. It’s only a young team – the future of rugby league is really bright.
“If we can get a few more young guys coming through, it is going to be a great thing over the next 10-15 years.”
Hardaker went out of the Test campaign with one regret.
“My stepdad loves [Kiwi full-back Roger] Tuivasa-Sheck and he asked me to get his shirt,” he said. “I said ‘don’t worry, he’s No 1 and I’m No 1 – that’s how it works!’
“I asked him, but he said somebody else has got it – Jezza (Jermaine McGillvary). He’s only played one game, he’s won and he’s got the shirt I wanted as well.”