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9th January 2017, 10:36 | englandrl

Hardaker determined to win back England place

Hardaker determined to win back England place

Zak Hardaker will use his omission from England's 2016 Four Nations squad as an extra spur to win his place back for the end-of-year World Cup.

The 25-year-old, who was an ever-present for England in 2015, was left out of new coach Wayne Bennett's first national squad after a disrupted season which he ended on loan from Leeds Rhinos to Sydney club Penrith Panthers.

Hardaker, who has joined Castleford Tigers on a season-long loan for 2017, admits he was hurt by the axing but says it has made him more determined to bounce back, especially after witnessing England's failure to reach the Four Nations final.

"I expected to be in there, to be fair," he said. "But I think that's helped. I was a bit upset, I was angry with myself because I thought I could have done better.

"Watching the games, how England played, I really thought I could have brought something to the team. I just thought to myself 'I'm not having that, I'm going to put myself into a position where he can't not pick me for the World Cup."

Hardaker, the 2015 Man of Steel, says returning to Betfred Super League was part of his plan to regain his England jersey and believes playing for Castleford under highly-rated coach Daryl Powell will further boost his hopes.

"It's a big year for English rugby, with the World Cup being in Australia, and I really want to be a part of that," he said. "That was another reason for me coming to Castleford with Daryl.

"He gave me my first start at Featherstone and he was the one who sorted the deal out for me to go to Leeds. I'll always be grateful to Daryl for giving a little scrawny kid a chance on the wing.

"He knows me, he knows what kind of person I am and he knows exactly what to expect from me.

"What he has done for Cas since he's been here has been really good. The club keeps going forward and, with the squad we've got and the depth in all positions, it's going to be an exciting year for Castleford I'm sure.

"I can't wait for this year to get started."

Hardaker received a strong hint that he will be part of Bennett's plans in 2017 when he was named among the 17 players due to attend a pre-season warm-weather training camp in Dubai before the trip was cancelled. 

"It shows you are in the mix," Hardaker said. "When I got the phone call, my mum was over the moon, she knows how disappointed and upset I was not getting in the Four Nations squad.

"It's not happening now but I thought 'I'm going to really use this camp to show what I can do'. I know he was going to go there for a couple of days towards the end of the camp."

Hardaker, who made his first appearance for Castleford in their friendly against Hull FC on Boxing Day, remains contracted to Leeds to the end of 2018 but the clubs have already agreed a transfer fee and he expects the deal to become permanent.

"I wouldn't mind signing now," he said. "I've been pleased with the reception I've got down here and I've really enjoyed it in the first nine weeks.

"I'm going to leave it until further down the line, get the first couple of months out of the way, and hopefully I'm still smiling and playing really well and the team is doing really well."