Patriotic Hardaker's nervous Four Nations wait
Panthers utility and England international Zak Hardaker is hoping his lack of recent minutes for Penrith doesn't cost him an England Test jersey at the end of season Four Nations.
The patriotic Leeds superstar also reiterated his opposition to the possibility of Australian-grown players with English heritage being lured into a red and white jersey. "We don't need them," was Hardaker's blunt assessment.
There have been suggestions players like the Brett and Josh Morris, Chris McQueen, Darcy Lussick and Trent Hodkinson could be recruited by new England coach Wayne Bennett. Not for the first time, Hardaker has insisted that is not the solution to helping England beat Australia.
"I'm not keen on it, I don't like it really, especially if they've represented Australia in some kind of way growing up or at junior level," Hardaker said.
"If I'm being honest we don't need those kind of players; they're good players don't get me wrong but we've got good players in England as well."
Hardaker backed England to be able to put a competitive side together from among its home-grown stock.
"We've got some fantastic players, we really have. Sometimes we've not put that together when we've been with England we've come up short with Australia a few times by two points," Hardaker said.
"We've beaten New Zealand then lost against New Zealand. We're thereabouts, it's just about getting that final thing right with a coach like Wayne that could be the missing ingredient. We've certainly got good enough English-born players in England."
The idea of singing the national anthem for another country wouldn't sit right with the 24-year-old northerner, which is a task that would face any Australian-raised players lured across.
"I'm pretty patriotic. I know back home some guys who are English play for Wales or whatever and if they want to do that that's up to them but I don't really like it," he said.
"I'm English, I'd play for England and nobody else. That's my view on it so we'll see how it goes."
Of his own chances of being in that squad, Hardaker is adamant he is good enough to be in the side, whether it's at fullback, wing or centre. However a poor season from Leeds as a team prior to Hardaker's move down under coupled with his own lack of consistent game time coming off the bench for Penrith could hurt his chances.
"It's difficult because Leeds weren't having the best year before I came over. I had some good games, I had some not too good games and then I came over here and I've not played regular minutes," Hardaker said.
"It's something I'm looking at; I'd love to be a part of it, I love playing for England, it's brilliant.
"With a new coach involved I'd love to be underneath Wayne Bennett and get some experience off him and see what he brings to the team.
"With new coaches you pick up new things so that would be fantastic. I am a bit wary at the moment just from [how much] I've played. This year's been a whirlwind up and down so I'll take it as it comes."
Hardaker isn't sure how he's placed and hasn't had any personal communication with Bennett other than a single group session when the 66-year-old flew over for a whirlwind visit during a Broncos bye week earlier in the season to address the extended England squad about the direction the team would be heading in.
"I've not had any communication… I was in England before I came over obviously and he had a meeting with us when the Broncos had a bye," Hardaker said.
"We were just putting things in place of what he expects of us and what he wants to change about how we play so that was just in a big group, I've not spoken to him individually."
Hardaker is the incumbent England fullback, having played all three Test against New Zealand in a three-match series in late 2015. But with Test backs like Sam Tomkins, Kallum Watkins, Ryan Hall, John Bateman, Josh Charnley and Titans-bound centre Dan Sarginson all plying their trade on a weekly basis in the UK – plus Joe Burgess out here with the Rabbitohs – recent game-time may be a factor for the Penrith utility.
"I definitely feel like I should be in the team, whether that's fullback, centre, wing," Hardaker said.
"That's what I believe, I know I'm good enough, my traits are better than some other people's but I don't know what [Bennett] goes on – is he going to pick on form? [For example] Hull, they're going really well this year, they've not been going well years before so there's a few English guys in there, does he go with them because they've been going well? Or does he go with the guys that have been there done that?"
Even if Hardaker's stint at Penrith does cost him a Test jersey he'll have no regrets about his time at the club.
"It has been [hard not playing 80 minutes] but the experience of being in the environment, being in the team, scoring my first try, it's been amazing," he said.
"If I was still back home and someone gave me this and said this is what will happen if you go over, I'd have loved that, I'd have jumped at the chance. I'm not disappointed whatsoever."
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