“One of the hardest days” – Jamie Jones-Buchanan reflects on Leeds Rhinos losing Zak Hardaker

On Tuesday, arguably the story of the season was confirmed.

After nearly a week of rumours, Zak Hardaker put pen to paper on a deal to join former club Leeds Rhinos until the end of the season following his release from Wigan.

The versatile back left Leeds under a cloud in 2016 to join Penrith in the NRL on a short term basis before switching to Castleford in 2017 still officially a Leeds player until the Tigers paid a huge sum to permanently secure his services.

However, months later, his spell at the Tigers would be derailed by controversy and now something similar has happened at Wigan.

Nonetheless, Hardaker is still one of the league’s best players and down to the bare bones of their squad, Leeds simply had to bring in a player of his quality when he became available and did so. He was set to be a major boost ahead of their clash with the in form Hull KR at Headingley but suffered a seizure on Tuesday afternoon.

This was the day Hardaker had officially signed for the Rhinos and participated in his first training session with the club. That afternoon whilst with his young son, the three-time Grand Final winner suffered a seizure and was medically stood down from yesterday’s game.

The Rhinos didn’t need him in the end battling to a 12-0 win over Hull KR at Headingley with a gutsy performance which interim boss Jamie Jones-Buchanan praised after the game.

However, he felt it was even more impressive because of what the squad had gone through this week in terms of signing Hardaker only to lose him to worrying circumstances with the fullback forced to go to hospital following his seizure.

Buchanan would even describe Wednesday – the day this news began filtering out changing his plans and leaving him concerned for a former teammate and an old friend – as “one of the hardest days” he’s endured for some time.

Here’s what he said of that particular day and his squad’s response: “The week we’ve had you know, Wednesday was one of the hardest days I’ve had in a long time. My head was all over because it was coming from a multitude of different direction and the fact it didn’t derail them shows a great degree of mental toughness from our boys.

“What’s pleased me is the character that’s been shown by some of these players.”

Speaking of the squad, Buchanan backed the players at Leeds to create an environment in which Hardaker can thrive whilst giving an update on the England international: “He’s alright. I don’t think he’s here tonight. He’s staying at home resting. He had some tests in Manchester yesterday and he was gutted he couldn’t play.

“He just needs looking after for a multitude of reasons. When he comes back he’ll be good because we’ll look after him.

“Zak has never been shy of talking about some of his challenges. There’s triggers with him. When he’s happy he’s fine and he’s got a lot of mates here to make him happy.”

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