As they get ready to begin their quest for a second successive Super League Grand Final in 2018, Castleford coach Daryl Powell has admitted he cannot rule out a return for fullback Zak Hardaker when his drugs ban expires.
Hardaker was stood down by the Tigers in the days leading up to last October’s final defeat to Leeds, after it later emerged he failed a drugs test following Castleford’s Super 8s game against the Rhinos in September.
He is still awaiting an official suspension from UK Anti-Doping – but Powell conceded to League Express they will ‘never say never’ in regards to him playing for Castleford again.
“You don’t know, do you – you never say never,” Powell said. “I sat down with Zak after it all happened and yes, there is potential for that, but it’d depend on him and what happens to him. We just have to wait and see on that.
“Zak is a good kid, he’s made a few too many mistakes but ultimately he’s a fantastic rugby league player and I think there could be [a future] for him,” he said. “The club has been fantastic for him and we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds.”
Without Hardaker, Powell will Ben Roberts to fullback this season – and he admits it will be a challenge for Roberts to fill the sizeable void left by Hardaker following his suspension.
“Zak was probably the fittest player in the competition last year,” Powell said. “Benny isn’t quite like that, and we’re tweaking a couple of things in terms of our game to suit that. Defensively, he’ll have to work really hard because Zak was outstanding there.
“But he’s a damaging runner of the ball and I expect him to be a pretty big success there.”
Powell also insists that Castleford’s best chance of becoming Super League champions has not passed them by in 2017 – adding he believes they can go one better this season.
“We’re confident we’ve got the players to challenege everyone we go against,” he said.
“I don’t think it was our best chance. I was at Leeds in 1998 for the first Grand Final, we lost that but the following year we won the Challenge Cup.
“That team was growing old too, and that drove us on, losing that final – and I see something similar this time, with the exception that it’s a young team and a team who can maintain a high quality of standard over a number of years. That starts on Friday night.”