Zak Hardaker still has the potential to become the best player in Super League again, according to the man who put his reputation on the line to sign him for Wigan as Zak prepares to resume his career this weekend.
Hardaker will play for Wigan in one of their two friendlies this week (they play London Skolars on Friday and Salford on Sunday), marking his first appearance since he was handed a 14-month suspension following a positive test for cocaine in September 2017.
Since signing for the Warriors, Hardaker has been arrested for drink driving, and the club’s director of rugby Kris Radlinski admits that while it was ’50-50’ over whether they would terminate his contract following that incident, they now believe he can return to his former glories, after a period in the Sporting Chance clinic.
“He wouldn’t still be here if we didn’t think he could succeed,” Radlinski told League Express. “It’s very early days of course, and we have to manage this process very slowly. Zak has cleared a big hurdle going to Sporting Chance and it’s up to him now. We have spoken about him going out and being the best player in the competition again and we think he can do it.”
On how serious Wigan considered Hardaker’s future following his arrest, Radlinski admitted that it was as serious as it gets. It was maybe 50-50 that Wigan would cut their losses there and then, and Zak knows that.
“I chose to drive him to Sporting Chance,” said Radlinski, “so I could spend time with him; make him aware that this was a fork-in-the-road moment for him, not just in terms of his rugby career but also his life. Either his career could go to the next level and he could become Man of Steel again, or he could become what people say he is.
“Spending that time with him made me more determined than ever to make it work. I was filled with hope that he would be able to get through the four-week period and become a superstar again. I still feel that.”
Radlinski also stressed that while nobody at Wigan is getting carried away with Hardaker’s development since leaving Sporting Chance, they have been encouraged by what they have seen so far.
“He looks fit, he looks healthy; the feedback we’ve had from people at Sporting Chance is that he opened himself up and completely bought into what he needed to do – that it was obvious he wanted to change his life around. We are certain it was the right thing for him to do.
“Maybe his issues had never been dealt with correctly, so to go in there and open himself up like he did was new to him; we are hoping that’s the difference here.
“I have always looked out for Zak emotionally, but for me to recommend to my board that we needed to get him into the club, be within four weeks of that happening and then lose it was devastating for me.
“Since that incident, however, our players and staff say he is one of the most likeable players at the club. We all want to see Zak Hardaker be the player he can be. The game is crying out for superstars and he can be one of them.
If he does it, there is a brilliant story there to be told.”
This story first appeared in Monday’s issue of League Express. To read the full edition of the paper, click here.