Leeds Rhinos full-back Ashton Golding is looking forward to measuring himself against the player whose number one shirt he took, his big friend, Zak Hardaker.
Golding took over as Rhinos’ first-choice full-back when Hardaker joined Castleford Tigers on a season-long loan last autumn.
Tonight’s derby at the Jungle will be the first time the two have gone head-to-head and is a match-up Golding has been relishing since the fixture list was published.
“Inevitably there’s going to be a lot of talk about it in the media, but I am just looking forward to playing my mate,” Golding said.
“He is a real good guy and a real good mate of mine.
“The work he did with me was unbelievable and it really helped me - something like that you don’t forget.”
Golding, 20, has kept in touch with Hardaker since the former Man of Steel’s move away from Rhinos.
“Zak is a guy I could ring at any time and I could speak to him and he would be so open with me because that’s the person he is,” he said.
“He’s a genuine down to earth guy and a good friend of mine.
“He is always there with a word of advice and, likewise, if I can do anything for him he knows where I am.”
The full-back clash is a sub-plot to an intriguing fixture, with Leeds testing their improvement against a team tipped to be contesting for honours this year.
Having been born in Leeds, Golding has faced players and teams from Castleford throughout his rugby life, at every level.
He admitted Cas teams always raise their game against Leeds sides, but insisted: “We are exactly the same.
“We always look forward to playing Cas.
“Me personally, being a Leeds lad and growing up here, it is a big fixture.
“You mark it off in your diary and you realise ‘it’s Cas week’.
“You motivate yourself for this. They will be the same and it makes for good rugby league.”
Tigers are in red-hot form, winning 30-22 at Warrington Wolves last Friday after a 44-16 home demolition of Leigh Centurions in round one.
“They are going well, but we want to play that and we want to face that each team we play,” Golding said.
“Week on week hopefully we can keep getting the two points.
“I’m just loving playing at the moment.
“I think everyone in a Rhinos shirt is talking for themselves, everyone’s playing for positions - it’s not as if you are guaranteed a spot.
“We have been having to pull out wins from games when it’s so close and tight and it’s good to see that we can do that.”
Rhinos’ three matches so have have been decided by two points, three and six. They narrowly missed out at St Helens in round one before beating Leigh and Salford Red Devils and Golding reckons they are learning with every game.
“Every game we go into, we expect a tight match,” he said. “We expect it to be close in the 78th minute.
“If we can win a game like that, it’s outstanding. The team is coming along nicely.
“Our defence has been outstanding and our attack is a lot better. We’ve got direction and we know where we are going, so it’s looking good for us.”