Return of the Zak

Warrington Wolves 22-30 Castleford Tigers

It was like going back 18 months watching Castleford’s stylish win at Warrington on Friday night.

Great tries, line breaks and Zak Hardaker again showing he is, arguably, the best full-back in Super League.

Hardaker won the Steve Prescott Man of Steel in Leeds treble year of 2015 and then starred for England as they won the Test Series against the then no.1 side in New Zealand.

He is no stranger to controversy, which  includes  being sent home from the England camp during the 2013 World Cup. Two years later he was questioned by Police over an allegation of assaulting a student, before he was released without charge.

After the highs of winning the treble and being acclaimed Man of Steel by his peers, his fortunes took a downward turn in 2016. His form suffered as the club struggled to come to terms with the loss of club greats Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock.

Problems with prescription drugs and alcohol led to a drop in form and then a move from Leeds to play in the NRL on loan with the Penrith Panthers.

There was an offer for him to stay in the NRL, believed to be by the Newcastle Knights, but Hardaker had made his mind up to return and have another crack at Super League.

With plenty of offers on the table, he opted to link up with his former Featherstone Coach Daryl Powell at Castleford on an initial one year loan deal, with a view to a permanent transfer in November.

After an impressive start to 2017, Hardaker comes up against his old Leeds teammates this Thursday as the Rhinos make the short trip to the Mend a Hose Jungle.

The Leeds players will see a fit and revitalised Hardaker after two impressive displays for the Tigers this season.

On Friday at Warrington he scored his first try in a Tigers shirt as he turned in a star man performance as Castleford beat last year’s League Leader’s Shield winners.

They’ll see the Hardaker that helped them to that elusive treble two years ago and not the one that walked out of Headingley almost 12 months ago. He is back and looking better than ever!

Yes it’s still early days, but the signs are good.

The year of 2017 could be an even bigger year for Hardaker than of that two years ago when Leeds won the treble.

Castleford are tipped to win a trophy by many this season and the 25-year-old is in pole position to claim the England no 1 jersey for the World Cup down under in October.

It’s crucial for the growth of the sport in this country that England at least make the final at the World Cup and with a series win against the Kiwis already under his belt, Hardaker will be looking for more glory on the greatest stage of all.