Super League Grand Final winner Zak Hardaker has fixed his sights on world domination as the Leeds Rhinos centre prepares to face Australian champions Manly Sea Eagles in the Heinz Big Soup World Club Challenge at Headingley Carnegie Stadium on Friday, February 17 (8.00pm)
Hardaker capped a breakthrough year in 2011 with a try in the Grand Final victory over St Helens and now the 20-year-old is hoping he can replicate that form against some of the best players in the world to help see Leeds crowned world champions.
"It doesn't get much better than a Friday night at Headingley," said Hardaker, who had a strong game for the Rhinos as they opened their title defence with a 34-16 defeat of Hull KR last Friday. "I hope the fans can come out in force and get behind the side and spur us on because it would be great to see a full house in the stands.
"I watched some of the Manly players like Anthony Watmough during the Four Nations and you know with guys like him and Jamie Lyon it will be a tough game, but there isn't anything more exciting than playing against the Australian champions on a Friday night at home.
"Last season was a great high for me and winning a Grand Final at 19 is a massive achievement and I'm fortunate to be playing for a great team with some great players.
"I can't wait to get back into competitive action again now and looking ahead to the World Club Challenge it would be fantastic if I got selected to play in what would be the biggest game of my career. The Grand Final was massive and I think the atmosphere will be similar, but it's not often you get to face the best from Australia."
Leeds last faced Manly in the 2009 World Club Challenge at Elland Road in a fixture the Sydney-based club won 28-20, but the Rhinos are confident they can avenge that defeat this time around and Hardaker believes the experience of his fellow team-mates will be a key factor.
"When you have guys like Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock around the camp you pick up on their professionalism and that helps you play your best game," said Hardaker.
"They've told me that the World Club games have been some of the most memorable of their career and I know it would be a massive learning curve for me to play in that game against some great players. It's also an exciting prospect of winning more silverware.
"I think if I played and we won, it wouldn't matter what else happened in my career, I'd know I took my chances when I had them and it would be the icing on what has been a great year for me and another dream come true."
After being handed the Number 4 shirt for the new Stobart Super League season, Hardaker goes into the game challenged with the task of replacing long-term Rhinos servant Keith Senior, but the young centre is relishing the change to step up to the plate..
"I love challenges and I relish it when people doubt me as it makes me work even harder to prove the critics wrong," he said. "As a team we were written off last year but we proved people wrong by winning the trophy.
"I know taking on Keith's shirt is a big challenge, but I aim to make the most of it and make it mine."
Tickets for the Heinz Big Soup World Club Challenge are priced from £15 for juniors and concessions and can be purchased direct from Leeds Rhinos via the Headingley Carnegie Stadium Ticket Sales Office or by calling 0871 423 1315 (Calls are charged at 10p per minute - calls from mobiles may vary). Fans can also purchase their tickets online at www.therhinos.co.uk/buytickets 24 hours a day or direct from the RFL on 0844 856 1113 or from www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk.
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