Jackson Hastings: 'I'm proud to play for Great Britain', says Man of Steel

By Dave WoodsBBC rugby league correspondent
Salford's Jackson Hastings and St Helens' Lachlan Coote, his fellow Australian convert, were on opposing sides in the Grand Final at Old Trafford
Salford's Jackson Hastings and St Helens' Lachlan Coote, his fellow Australian convert, were on opposing sides in the Grand Final at Old Trafford

Jackson Hastings' accent may be pure Aussie but he says he is ready to invest his heart and soul into playing for Great Britain.

And the 2019 Man of Steel says he is also ready to be taught a masterclass by his fellow Lions as they prepare to tackle Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea over the next four weeks.

Hastings' selection, along with fellow Australians Blake Austin and Lachlan Coote, has divided opinion among British rugby league fans and some ex-players.

But the GB selectors have been comfortable using rules that have been widely exploited by other national sides, and in most other sports.

The Sydney-born player, who this season helped inspire Salford to a first Super League Grand Final, says he understands why his selection might not be universally popular.

"Yeah, I obviously understand what people think," Hastings told the 5 Live rugby league podcast. "And who they want to represent this shirt.

"But I've said before, I don't make the rules. I qualify, I put my hand up and it was out of my hands if I got selected. But I'm selected now and I'm truly honoured to be a part of this group of players.

"It's obviously an elite group, an illustrious group and a very special opportunity to do something that could only come around once in a lifetime.

"I'm very proud and privileged to be here. Who knows if I'm going to play or not? I'm just really honoured to be here.

"I want to represent not only myself but the Lions on the tour with pride and dignity and do whatever I can to be a good ambassador for the Lions and the sport over here."

Jackson Hastings
Jackson Hastings scored 10 tries in 35 games for Salford and also covered 3,763 metres during the 2019 campaign

The 23-year-old, who qualifies for Great Britain though his Devon-born English grandmother, has had a glorious 18 months with Salford.

He helped them avoid relegation in the latter stages of 2018, before that breathtaking run to the Grand Final this year.

And the panel of judges, including several legends of the British game, who select the Man of Steel made him the player of the season for the campaign just gone.

But Hastings says he still has improvements to make in his game and is looking forward to learning from his fellow tourists.

"There are some unbelievable players in this squad that I've played against but not got the chance to play with," he told BBC Sport.

"I'll be able to learn and take some vital things off them and hopefully take back in my game and then hopefully have a long rep career."

If selected for the opening Test against Tonga, Hastings will probably come up against a familiar face in the opposition side - his former Salford team-mate Tui Lolohea.

"Yeah, it'd be funny that," he said. "I've formed a very special bond with Tui. I'm extremely proud of how he bounced back from what happened at Leeds.

"He was told he was not good enough - I've been in that situation before.

"We've formed a very good friendship and I'm close to his partner and his couple of kids too. I really count him as like a brother.

"If I get the chance to go up against him, I'm sure we'll put that behind us for 80 minutes and do the best we can against each other. It'd be cool if we can swap jerseys too."

Even if he is not selected for that opening game, Hastings cannot wait to experience the atmosphere created by the Tongan supporters, rated as the noisiest and most passionate in the rugby league world.

Tonga's Manua Ma'u
Tonga were narrowly beaten 20-18 by England in the 2017 World Cup final

He is also full of admiration for a Tongan side that broke into the international rugby league elite at the last World Cup, when they beat New Zealand and fell only just short against England in the semi-final.

"What they've done for the international game is unbelievable," he said. "They've got some of the best players in the world in their team. Jason Taumololo flipping over there got a lot of boys to go over.

"Tui's told me how special it is to play for that Tonga jersey. They fill the stadium with red every time they play and its an amazing atmosphere. They play a great brand of rugby too.

"So, whether I play or not, to be in the ground and witness the sort of scenes and atmosphere that they create, I'll remember for a long, long time."

At the end of the tour, Hastings will join Wigan for the 2020 season on a two-year deal, but with an opt-out to return to the NRL in 2021 if an offer comes his way.

He remains emotional, however, about his year and a half with the Red Devils.

"I'm sort of numb to the feeling of not to be playing for Salford anymore." he said. "I've had a couple of days to digest it and to sit back and look back at my time and know how special it was. It's been an honour, it's been a privilege.

"We've got this tour now and when I come back I'm in a completely different team and I'll cross the bridge when I get there. But it's exciting to start a new chapter and have a new challenge ahead of me."

Top Stories

Explore the BBC