Gary Hetherington explains Zak Hardaker deal and credits the man who was key to it at Leeds Rhinos

If someone had told you before the start of the season that Zak Hardaker would play fullback for Leeds before Richie Myler this campaign, you’d have thought they were crazy.

But after Hardaker signed a deal at Leeds this morning to keep him at the club until the end of 2022 following a shock departure from Wigan, that now seems sure to be the case with the fullback set to debut again for the club he left in 2016 on Friday against Hull KR whilst Myler continues to return from an injury sustained in Round One playing at stand-off.

It’s not a move anyone expected to see given the way Hardaker left the club in 2016 having won three Super League titles and two Challenge Cups with Leeds as well as the Man of Steel, but it’s one that comes out of necessity.

The Rhinos were down to 20 players ahead of their game against Toulouse last week and injuries to Liam Sutcliffe and Tom Briscoe have worsened their plight especially in positions Hardaker is well versed in.

Speaking to the Rhinos website this morning, Gary Hetherington confirmed this is the reasoning behind the shock return of Hardaker to Headingley: “We have had to move quickly to secure the services of Zak for the remainder of the season.

“Unfortunately, we have suffered injuries to our backline with Liam Sutcliffe and Tom Briscoe the latest to join that list during Friday night’s win over Toulouse. Centre and full back, in particular, are areas where we have long term injuries to Harry Newman and Jack Walker and Zak will provide experienced cover in both these positions.”

He also explained that Rohan Smith spoke with Hardaker over the weekend before the deal was done and that the short-term deal works for all parties. On top of this he identified the man in the club who was a major proponent of the deal: “I have spoken to Zak on a number of occasions over the last few days and he spoke with Rohan Smith over the weekend. The short-term contract works for all parties in this unique situation, and I am sure Zak will be aiming to show his best form on the field now he is back in blue and amber. Credit must also go to Jamie Jones-Buchanan who was open to welcoming his former team mate back into our environment.”

So, Jamie Jones-Buchanan – a former teammate of Hardaker’s playing alongside him in the 2011 and 2012 Grand Finals – was key to securing the deal due to his willingness to support an old friend.

Buchanan will return to his role as assistant coach once new boss Rohan Smith arrives having overseen a win and a draw as interim Leeds boss. Buchanan noted after the win over Toulouse that he’d be happy to support Hardaker upon his return and appears to have helped secure the fullback’s desired return to Yorkshire whilst helping Leeds during their difficult spell.

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