Leeds Rhinos’ 2022 campaign effectively came to an end tonight as they hosted New Zealand in a warm-up match for the Rugby League World Cup.
The game acted as a goodbye for a number of departing stars. It was Thomas Leuluai’s final game as he led out the Kiwis and the same could be said of Leeds’ Adam Cuthbertson.
The Rhinos also said goodbye to Tom Briscoe and co. However, amongst those farewelled by Leeds tonight, there was no send off for Zak Hardaker.
Hardaker is not contracted for next season at the moment but played a key role in Leeds’ revival in 2022 helping them reach the Grand Final.
With no salary cap space open at present for Hardaker to stay, when asked about whether he’d like to keep Hardaker, Leeds boss Rohan Smith only had this to say: “The squad will never be finalised. It will always be a work in progress. There will be updates when there’s updates but at the moment there’s no salary cap room to do anything, until there is we can’t do anything.
“Currently Zak is uncontracted and there is no salary cap room to make a move.”
Nonetheless, the fact that Hardaker was not given any sort of send off suggests Leeds are working behind the scenes to keep him at the club.
One man who will definitely be at the club and will fight with Hardaker for the number one jersey is Luke Hooley who signed a two year deal with Leeds this week and debuted tonight.
Smith had his say on Hooley’s performance: “I thought it was good for him, there’s no bigger test than playing against those fellas. I think it was good for him and it sets him up to ready himself for a big pre-season and Super League. There’s nothing like a game against the best in the world.”