Leeds Rhinos and England fullback Zak Hardaker has revealed he’s looking forward to squaring off against Golden Boot winner Johnathan Thurston tonight.
Hardaker will be at fullback for the Rhinos in the World Club Challenge against NRL champions North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday, in the first of perhaps several meetings between the Man of Steel and the world’s best player in 2016.
Hardaker – who waxed lyrical about the Cowboys’ side – said facing Thurston’s iconic kicking game will be a challenge, but one he’s excited about.
“It’s a beast of a team they’ve got, they’re very big from what I’ve seen,” he admitted.
“I love playing the Aussies though and I give them plenty of stick, even the ones that play here.
“It’ll be a good contest between myself and Johnathan; the style they play is unbelievable and they’re a team full of stars.
“It’ll be a great game when they come over and we’re squaring off against them. I haven’t faced Johnathan’s kicking game yet and I’m sure it’ll be a tough experience, but hopefully we can do a job on them.”
Hardaker was a fellow Golden Boot nominee alongside Thurston, and he said he’s targeting a clean sweep of all four domestic trophies available this weekend by securing the World Club Challenge.
“I was fortunate enough to play against Manly in the centres, but I missed out on the Melbourne one,” he recalled when asked about his history with the competition.
“I was one of the three nominees for the Golden Boot which was overwhelming, but I didn’t really think I should have been in that bracket, if I’m being honest.
“That’s something I can aim for this year personally, and lots of little things are targets.
“On a club level, we didn’t get the chance to play in the World Club Challenge last year so we’ve got that to focus on too to try to get our hands on all four trophies.”
The Rhinos will head into the game without captain Danny McGuire due to injury, and with three more injuries to contend with after Sunday’s 56-12 defeat at Widnes, but new skipper Rob Burrow is delighted to take on the role in McGuire’s absence.
“I’m absolutely honoured. I’m just filling in for Danny but I’m really thankful to be asked, and hopefully I’ll do the club proud as captain,” he said.