Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker in England reprieve

Zak Hardaker
Zak Hardaker
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LEEDS RHINOS full-back Zak Hardaker has admitted he feared his latest brush with authority could have ruined his international career.

Hardaker is currently taking part in the England squad’s mid-season training camp at Loughborough University, despite being banned for five games for making an offensive comment in last month’s defeat at Warrington Wolves.

Hardaker left the England squad midway through last year’s World Cup campaign due to off-field issues and the latest incident led to doubts over whether he should be handed a recall.

But Hardaker insisted he has the full backing of England coach Steve McNamara and his recent troubles have only made him more determined to have a strong end to the season with club and country.

Hardaker revealed: “Steve spoke to me on the Thursday prior to the (Warrington) game on the Friday.

“Then that came out and on the Monday I was like Jeez, what’s happened here – everyone was going mad about it.

“I didn’t realise how bad it was at the time. Obviously the thought was going through my head then, am I going to get banned, how many games will I miss?

“It was a case of do I get to miss England again or is he going to stick with me? All those things were going through my head.

“The last week was a bit troublesome, my head was all over the place and I didn’t know what to expect.

“But Steve reassured me that whatever the outcome was he would stick with me and stay by me.

“You can’t get more comforting than an international coach saying that to you, so that really sparked me on and made me feel happy about myself.

“I went to the tribunal and got five games which wasn’t very good, but on the bright side I will be even more itching to get back on the field and the backing from Steve Mac is brilliant.

“A stupid comment comes out and it could ruin your career, but a day or two after the investigation started he texted me and I was under no illusion that he’d be right by my side, so that was always comforting to know.”

Hardaker said he has also been boosted by backing from Rhinos’ management.

“As soon as it happened I had [coach] Brian McDermott and [chief executive] Gary Hetherington saying they were fully behind me,” he said.

“I had that backing straight from the off so there was no problem there. It was just what the outcome was going to be regarding the ban that was concerning.”

Of being part of this week’s camp, Hardaker added: “It’s really good to be back in.

“Obviously the things that happened last year were a bit disappointing, but my form this year has been pretty good and Steve McNamara has picked up on that.

“He rang me a couple of weeks back and asked me to come back. It was an overwhelming phone call and I was really thrilled.

“Steve said he has no grudges against me. Obviously I apologised for the mistake I made and held my hands up for it and I’ve moved on.

“In the phone call we said if I am going to come back now we will draw a line and we did.”

Anthony Mullally

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