MAN OF Steel Zak Hardaker is aiming to get one over his oldest rivals when Leeds Rhinos visit Castleford Tigers tonight.
Hardaker is from Pontefract and admits he likes nothing better than being part of a win against any Castleford team.
With Rhinos just a point behind behind eighth-placed Tigers on the First Utility Super League table, the full-back has even more incentive to help inspire the champions to a second successive victory.
“I grew up in Pontefract and that is a big rivalry, Ponte and Cas,” Hardaker said.
“Local history will tell you Pontefract don’t like Castleford anyway. Then I played for Knottingley Rockware, which was another rivalry. Then I moved to Featherstone, which is even more – and then I signed for Leeds Rhinos!
“Castleford have been my big rivals ever since I was about five years old. That’s why I have always loved playing against Cas teams.
“It brings everyone’s game up and everyone wants to win. There’s always a bit of argy-bargy and I love a bit of bash in rugby league.”
Following Bradford Bulls’ relegation, games between Leeds and Castleford have become the biggest in West Yorkshire rugby league.
“Cas and Leeds games are always massive,” said Hardaker, who was in the crowd last weekend when Featherstone Lions were beaten by Castleford Lock Lane in the Challenge Cup.
“It’s one you love to be involved in and you look for at the start of the year.
“I always look when we’ve got Cas and where we play them first. We’ve got them away and that’s always a daunting task.
“It is a great venue and I love playing there. The atmosphere is always fantastic and it’s a brilliant place to play.”
Tigers boss Daryl Powell was in charge at Big Fellas Stadium when Hardaker made his breakthrough there in 2010.
“He gave me my first chance at Featherstone Rovers and I’ll always be grateful for that,” Hardaker said.
“He was not just a great coach, but also a mentor for me. He helped to make me a better person away from the game, as well as on the pitch.
“I respect him a lot, he is a fantastic coach and he will have Cas ticking so it’s very important we turn up with a great mindset, because we have a job to do.”
Rhinos are on the back of a morale-boosting 30-18 win over St Helens six days ago.
“We didn’t start the season very well, but we are beginning to gather some momentum and get some things right during the week that’s showing on the pitch,” Hardaker said.
“The win against Saints has lifted our spirits, but Cas have just taken a bit of a hiding against Warrington so it’s going to be interesting for us both.
“We have got a really tough Easter period, but if we get a result against Castleford we are at home against Wakefield on Monday and Hull KR the game after, so there’s some momentum to be had and to be built on.
“But the foundations have to be set first and that’s against Castleford.
“We are really confident, but I’m sure Daryl will have got into their players this week and he’ll be trying to gee them up for us.
“I don’t think they’ll take a lot of geeing up, because Leeds-Cas games are always tasty and recently they’ve done really well against us.”
Castleford Tigers: from Boyle, Crooks, Gale, Hampshire, Hitchcox, Jewitt, Lynch, Maher, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Monaghan, Roberts, Solomona, Springer, Webster.
Leeds Rhinos from: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Handley, Sutcliffe, McGuire, Burrow, Galloway, Falloon, Cuthbertson, Ablett, Ferres, Jones-Buchanan, Mullally, Delaney, Walters, McGuire, Keinhorst.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.