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Former England full-back Zak Hardaker is expecting a Test match atmosphere when Wigan take on Sydney Roosters for the right to be called world champions.
The 27-year-old will be playing in his third World Club Challenge, having won one and lost one with Leeds, and concedes the star-studded Australian side will go into Sunday’s game as favourites.
“The week’s build-up is like an international,” he said. “It’s a big rugby league town and all the fans have been excited about it for the last few weeks.
“The Australians have come here as favourites I think, everyone expects us to get beat.
“We’re going up against the likes of Cooper Cronk, James Tedesco, Jared Waerea Hargreaves, Boyd Cordner, the list goes on and when I speak about them it just gets me excited.
“You want to play against the best and that’s certainly what we’ll be doing on Sunday.”
The annual showdown between the champions of Super League and the NRL will be only the third Wigan appearance for Hardaker, who feared the big occasions were a thing of the past as he faced the prospect of his career being cut short while in his prime.
Sacked by Castleford after testing positive for cocaine in the run-up to the 2017 Grand Final, he put his Wigan career in jeopardy when he was caught drink-driving just days after starting training with his new club.
However, Wigan stood by the former Leeds player after he agreed to attend a rehabilitation course at Sporting Chance and Hardaker impressed new coach Adrian Lam enough to claim the full-back role ahead of Morgan Escare, who had already been given Sam Tomkins’s old number one jersey.
Hardaker insists he is now a reformed character and says he is determined to make the most of his latest opportunity.
“It’s brilliant,” he said. “When I signed last year, I was hoping Wigan would win the Grand Final and my mates were saying: ‘You could play in the World Club Challenge.’
“It seemed so far away at the time. Pre-season was tough and Morgan got the one shirt so it was all down to training hard and taking my chances when they’ve come.
“I think I’ve done all right in the two games so far and my third is a World Club Challenge, which is a bit surreal, but I’m looking forward to it.
“At first I was just thankful to be playing, I was really happy to be picked, and now I’m getting to the stage where I want to be the best again.
“I’ve got that hunger back and that drive. It’s a big test on Sunday but I love being tested.”
Meanwhile, Super League’s leading referee Robert Hicks will complete a hat-trick when he takes charge of Sunday’s game, having controlled both domestic finals in 2018.
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