It’s been a heck of a year for Zak Hardaker as a Castleford Tigers player.
Hardaker has undoubtedly reestablished himself as one of Super League’s finest talents after a difficult 2016, following a 2015 campaign in which he was without question the competition’s standout talent, winning the coveted Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel award.
But where does the England full-back stack up this season in comparison to his record-breaking year of 2015, when he helped now former employers Leeds win the treble? This week’s Super League analysis blog takes a closer look at just how close Hardaker is to that form.
First of all, the important stat: Hardaker player 27 Super League games in 2015 and this season, he’s played 17 to date.
Tries and assists
So far this season, Hardaker has four tries to his name. Across a full season in 2015, he scored 10 – so roughly speaking, he is on track to reach a similar amount this year. However, it’s the assists which suggest Hardaker is definitely back to his best. Playing in a side as fluid and free-flowing as Castleford are undoubtedly helps, and after only registering six assists in 27 games last year, he has double that – 12 – in just 17 games this year. It means Hardaker is averaging a try or an assist every single game, near enough.
Key defensive stats
Many experts believe it’s the defensive side of the game where Hardaker has made the biggest difference to Castleford’s performances. And the stats suggest he’s made an enormous difference, too. His game has developed so much he’s become renowned as one of the competition’s best defensive, as well as offensive, full-backs, and having made just 130 tackles in the whole of 2015, Hardaker has already made more (135) this season alone.
His error count of just 14 is currently on track to be lower than the 33 he made across the whole of 2015, too. So all in all, it’s easy to see from the stats just how big a difference Hardaker has made to Castleford at both ends of the field.
Metres, tackle busts and carries
As you’d imagine, with everything else stacking up so impressively to that form of two seasons ago, Hardaker’s metres and carries are also on par with Leeds’ treble-winning season of 2015. Hardaker made 3,758 metres at an average of around 138m per game two years ago. This season, he’s at 2,247 as things stand – an average of just over 132m per game. He’s also on an average gain per carry of 8.35 – not too dissimilar to the 8.72 set in 2015.
Amazingly, his tackle busts are on track to be significantly higher than two years ago too – underlining just how important Hardaker has been to Castleford’s attack. His 109 tackle busts of 2015 was Leeds’ highest of the Super League season – this year, he’s already up to 88, a much higher game average. Impressive.
The stats don’t lie. Hardaker is back on form this season without question. Whether he can go on and emulate the individual awards he won in 2015 – including the Man of Steel gong – remain to be seen. But on this form, he may be well worth a pound or two in the betting stakes.