Sinfield: Hardaker will be a star
England skipper Kevin Sinfield is predicting stardom for his young Leeds team-mate Zak Hardaker, who will make his England debut against Wales.
As his club captain at Leeds, Sinfield has witnessed at close hand the meteoric rise of the 21-year-old Hardaker, who earlier this month was named Super League young player of the year, just two years after playing in the Championship Grand Final for Featherstone.
He began his Rhinos career on the wing and was given Keith Senior's old number four jersey at the start of this season, but made such a success of his enforced switch to full-back that he looks set to keep the role.
"He's a fantastic kid who works so hard at his game and deserves everything he gets," Sinfield said at the England team base at Preston's University of Central Lancashire.
"I think he's going to get better and better as well. I think over the next two or three years you are going to see a real star.
"Without heaping too much pressure on him, I think he's going to be one of the best players in Super League."
Sinfield believes that full-back is Hardaker's best position and the youngster will now have the chance to put pressure on Wigan's Sam Tomkins for the role in the build-up to the 2013 World Cup.
With Warrington utility back Stefan Ratchford falling ill, Hardaker was the logical choice for the full-back spot for England's opening autumn international once it was confirmed Tomkins is still troubled by a knee injury.
"I'm proud and privileged to be part of the England set-up," Hardaker said. "Obviously to play my first international would be terrific. It's going to be a proud moment for me and my family.
"It's things you dream of as a young kid. I've really enjoyed my time in the camp and it will be icing on the cake to play against Wales."
Although Hardaker played full-back in his junior days, it was an unfortunate injury to Brent Webb that paved the way for his crucial switch from the threequarters midway through the season.
He is now hoping to keep the shirt for the champions but is hoping England fans will not compare him too closely to Tomkins, the recently-crowned Man of Steel.
"Obviously with the calibre of player that Sam is, it's going to be tough," he said.
"Every player has different attributes. It was the same with me and Brent Webb. I am a bit quicker than Webby but he made up for that with his ball skills and being a very smart player.
"That might come with age. I enjoy playing full-back. It gives me a lot more opportunities with ball in hand than playing at centre.
"I enjoy attacking and hopefully in a few years it could be my permanent position.
"I haven't cemented one yet but when I get back to pre-season with Leeds I'm going to talk to (coach) Brian McDermott and see what he thinks."