RYAN Noble insists that he has returned to Sunderland a better player than the one who joined Hartlepool United.
The 20-year-old made the short trip down the A19 in March ahead of a 13-game loan stay at Victoria Park.
It was the first time Noble had appeared regularly at senior level and his two goals – against Yeovil Town and Leyton Orient – were both match-winning efforts.
Those strikes, coupled with the forward’s honest endeavour, persuaded manager Neale Cooper to go on the record with his desire to see Noble return to the club next season.
That remains a very real possibility, but in the meantime the former England youth international is back on Wearside.
There he will return for pre-season training, and he told SportMail that Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill will see a different player at the Academy of Light come July.
“I think I’ll go back to Sunderland a better player for my time at Hartlepool,” said Noble, who has already stated he is open to another Pools loan move next term.
“It’s just a completely different experience and you’ve got to adapt pretty quickly.
“You’re playing against boys really at reserve-team level.
“But in League One it’s men – there’s some big lads.
“You’ve got to put yourself about a bit.
“A few of them come in a bit over the top, but if I can spin them then they don’t like it.
“So it’s been a challenge but I think I’ve got better with every game.”
Indeed, arguably Noble’s most impressive performance in the blue and white of Pools came in the final game of the season at Charlton Athletic.
Up against the Addicks’ title-winning rearguard, he refused to allow them a moment’s rest and again won praise from Cooper in the wake of that outing.
The Scot would have no doubt filed one last, glowing report to the coaches at Sunderland, and Noble admits he still hopes to make a first-team breakthrough at the Stadium of Light.
“I spoke to a couple of the coaches (from Sunderland) and I know some of them have been to watch me and put reports in,” he went on.
“That’s a good thing because I want to make it at Sunderland.
“The experience at Hartlepool will only help me with that and I’m definitely a better player now.
“I’ll go away for the summer now and we’ll have to see what happens about coming back here.”