THE NEWS Leeds Rhinos fans have been waiting for was confirmed today when the club announced a new contract for full-back Zak Hardaker.
The deal will keep Hardaker at the club until the end of the 2019 season and is a major boost for Rhinos ahead of tonight’s visit of St Helens.
Despite controversy on and off the field, Hardaker has become one of the hottest properties in the English game since joining Rhinos from Featherstone Rovers ahead of the 2011 season.
“I am really pleased to have signed the new deal,” said the 23-year-old, who has scored 60 tries in 124 appearances for Leeds.
“I would like to say thank you to (chief executive) Gary Hetherington for the faith he has shown in me and also the club’s supporters, especially our members who every year show their support for the team and certainly were a big part in why I have committed my future to the club.”
With Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai all in their final season, Hardaker said he is keen to be part of another golden generation at Leeds.
“Over the last decade, the fans have been used to a team that grew up together with Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Jamie Jones-Buchanan,” he said.
“Obviously things are going to change over the next few years, but there is a group of young players here now who want to follow in their footsteps and make our own history here with the Rhinos.
“It is a really exciting time to be at the club and I am looking forward to the future and achieving more success over the years ahead.”
Hardaker has bounced back from a series of setbacks, including an early departure from England’s 2013 World Cup squad, which led to an official warning from his club.
He served a five-game ban last year for verbally abusing a match official and was dropped for one match earlier this season for disciplinary reasons, but boss Brian McDermott hailed Hardaker for the way he has knuckled down this term.
“I am really pleased for Zak himself that he has agreed this new contract and committed his future to the club and our competition,” McDermott stated.
“Zak has had some well publicised ups and downs in his career, but there is no doubting his ability on the field. His work ethic and commitment on and off the field this season can not be questioned and I think over the next few years he will mature into a world class player.”
Hardaker’s new contract is also a boost for Super League, which has lost several top players to Australia’s NRL in recent years.
“It should not be underestimated how big an achievement it is by the club to keep the likes of Zak, Kallum Watkins, Ryan Hall, Joel Moon and Tom Briscoe at our club on long term contracts,” McDermott added.
“Our members and the fan base are a huge part of that, the support the players get creates a bond between the players and the club, a bond that is very hard to break and makes staying at this club a great option for all our players.”
Hardaker will be looking to celebrate his new deal with a strong performance against Saints tonight.
Rhinos are expecting their biggest crowd of the season for the clash between the current Challenge Cup holders and the Super League champions.
Fans will be able to pay cash at the turnstiles on St Michael’s Lane and Kirkstall Lane for access to the Western Terrace.