“I’m backing myself 100%” – Zak Hardaker wants to be England full-back at World Cup

Wigan’s Zak Hardaker is backing himself “100%” in his bid to become England’s full-back for the World Cup.The 29-year-old has had a stellar start to the Betfred Super League season, making the most metres in the division with 744, scoring four tries and kicking 11 goals in four league matches so far.

Hardaker, Catalans’ Sam Tomkins, Castleford’s Niall Evalds and Warrington’s Stefan Ratchford were all part of England’s training squad which met up with head coach Shaun Wane earlier this month in Leeds, while in-form Hull full-back Jake Connor should also be in contention for the hotly-contested position.

Wane revealed Tomkins would currently get the nod if the World Cup was to start now but Hardaker is confident he can be first choice when England kick off the tournament against Samoa on October 23, if he continues starring for the Warriors.

He said: “I’m in such a happy place at the moment. I’m really enjoying training, I’m playing well. Life is just so good at the moment so I can’t complain.

“Yeah, it’s up there. I don’t know if it’s my best (rugby of my career) – I’ve had some good years over the last 11 years – but I feel like I’m a lot more mature.

“I’m reading the game a lot more, I’m looking forward to playing every week. I’ve put in the hard work in pre-season so for me, that’s the reward. All the hard work is paying off, which I probably didn’t do five, six, seven, eight years ago.

“I’m backing myself 100%. I’m under no illusions, I know Shaun Wane said that if he picked his England team tomorrow he would pick Sam (Tomkins), but if you look at the stats I’m the best full-back so I’ve just got to keep that going.

“At first I wasn’t that bothered, I was going to let the rugby do the talking, but it’s getting to me a little bit now so I just want to make sure that it’s just me at full-back, no questions asked.”

Hardaker is currently Super League’s top metre maker

Hardaker was forced to miss the 2013 World Cup due to an off-field incident on the eve of the tournament and was unavailable four years later as he served a 14-month ban, with Wane admitting he had “difficult” conversations with the full-back during the England camp.

The Wigan man was honest when he elaborated on those discussions, saying: “They weren’t that difficult to be fair. At previous World Cups, I’ve had a drink when I’m not meant to have a drink and I’ve been asked to leave. And he’s just said to me, ‘Look, I’m not about that’.

“He was brutally honest with me which I do like about a coach. He said, ‘Zak, if there is a time for a drink, I’ll tell you. If there isn’t, you’re not allowed’.

“It was just about what he expects as a team and what he expects as a rugby player. I don’t want my name in the paper for something wrong or anything like that, it was a clear understanding of what he expects from an England World Cup player if I do get picked.”

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