Wigan full-back Zak Hardaker says his call up for the Great Britain tour came as a bit of a shock.
Hardaker, 27, was the headline inclusion in Wayne Bennett’s 24-man squad for the tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, as the Lions returns after 12 years in the wilderness.
He said: “Jamie Peacock got in touch after the Salford game and said not to book anything, so in my head I was in contention, that’s fantastic.
“I got the call to say I was in and it’s a bit of a shock because I’ve not been involved in the set-up all year.
“I’ve had a decent year, I haven’t over-excelled, so to get the recognition was a massive high from me from not playing last year, to having a good year at Wigan and to get the phone call, it’s been a great year.
“If I get picked to play or not, I’ll take it as a positive.”
The 2015 Man of Steel played for England against Samoa in May 2017, during a successful season on the pitch where he helped Castleford to the League Leaders’ Shield and their first Super League Grand Final.
But his season ended under a cloud, testing positive for cocaine which led to his withdrawal from the 2017 World Cup and a subsequent 14 month ban.
The former Leeds and Featherstone man said he hadn’t contemplated his international career might have been over as a consequence – especially given his previous controversies, including withdrawing from the 2013 World Cup.
He said: “If I hadn’t had a year out, it would have been frustrating not to have been picked because I know how good I am.
“I had a year out, so I’ve got to earn my right to get back. We started slow at Wigan and as the year went on people started talking about us and me, so I could feel the momentum a bit, I just thought it might have been a bit late.
“I’d have been pretty gutted if last year had ruined my chances for the next eight years.
“At the start of the year, I wanted to be Man of Steel, I wanted to get Great Britain, I wanted to be the best player in the league, I wanted to be all that I could. It’s not worked out for a couple of reasons, but I’ve just done my best for Wigan and I’ve been consistent and to get this call-up is a massive extra high for me.”
Hardaker faces a battle for the full-back slot on the GB tour, with Lachlan Coote and Jonny Lomax also in the squad, and he could end up being played in the centres, a position he played regularly at both Leeds and Featherstone.
He added: “Nothing’s been mentioned. I’ve been trying to figure out where I slot in. I played centre against Samoa in 2017 and I’ve played on the wing.
“If I’m there to cover full back I’m there, if I’m there to play centre I’ll play there, and if I’m there to play wing I’ll play wing. It doesn’t matter to me, wherever they need me I’ll put 120% in.”