Castleford fullback Zak Hardaker has insisted he is not interested in proving a point to parent club Leeds on Thursday night as he prepares to face them for the first time since leaving Headingley – after a frank admission that it was simply time for a change after a stellar few years with the Rhinos.
Hardaker won every major domestic honour during his time with Leeds after joining from Featherstone as a teenager, winning the Man of Steel award during his final full season with the club in 2015 as the Rhinos won the treble.
However, an acrimonious departure from Headingley midway through last season saw him head to Penrith on loan before eventually signing a one-year loan deal with the Tigers. And, as he gets ready for the first meeting against his parent club on Thursday night, Hardaker said he’s more interested in helping Castleford do well as opposed to proving a point to anyone.
“It’s massive,” he said of Thursday night’s game. “It’s something I looked for at the start of the season: what are we – away or at home first? It should be exciting to be down at the Jungle with Leeds coming.
“But I’m not really bothered about what I need to prove to Leeds or anyone. As long as I play well and play well for Castleford that’s all I’m bothered about really.
“Things happen in life and things change. It was just something what happened; it was time for a change for myself and I just thought it’d be in best interests for both parties that I’d not be there this season.”
Hardaker has adjusted to life across West Yorkshire exceptionally well, proving to be a pivotal part of Daryl Powell’s side in the opening month of the new Super League season – which they have gone through unbeaten.
They will look to make it three wins in a row on Thursday against the Rhinos, and Hardaker admits he can see signs of a squad capable of following in Leeds’ footsteps and winning major silverware.
“It’s in our hands,” he said. “We have the squad for it and the coaching staff and the belief so as long as we’ve got all that and take into each week and get the wins so we can be there at the end.
“We started off pretty well but we can’t rest on our laurels. We need to keep going and we have tough fixture this week so we need to carry on with that.”
Hardaker was speaking at England’s EPS get-together, his first call into the national set-up since Wayne Bennett’s appointment as coach 12 months ago.
He missed England’s Four Nations campaign after being overlooked by Bennett in favour of the likes of Jonny Lomax, and he admitted he has an extra incentive to get back to his best this season with a World Cup looming large on the horizon.
“I was disappointed when I didn’t get picked for the Four Nations,” he conceded. “And then to get the call to go to Dubai I was really excited about that – but then of course it got cancelled, although I was just excited to be in the frame.
“With the new structure we’re going through, meeting up and training through the week is really exciting. It gives me an extra added buzz throughout the season to try and achieve something at the end of the year with the World Cup.
“Wayne just said basically I’d not played enough time so it’s his call. I just thought to myself that I’ll definitely be playing a lot of rugby this year so it’s up to me now to pull my finger out, get some good performances under my belt and make sure he can’t not pick me.”