REPENTANT RHINO Zak Hardaker reckons his recent “mistake” will be a turning point in his life and career.
In his first interview since admitting an assault in Leeds two months ago, Hardaker conceded he is in the “last chance saloon” – and pledged to repay his club for their support.
Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington this week concluded his investigation into the behaviour of Hardaker and four other players on a night out in Leeds two months ago.
Hardaker and under-19s player Elliot Minchella both admitted assaulting a man, but avoided a police charge after agreeing to pay their victim compensation and write him a letter of apology.
The club’s own disciplinary process led to Hardaker being told to donate a month’s salary to charity, enroll on an anger management course and do voluntary work for the Rhinos foundation and marketing department.
Minchella, who is now on a season-long loan at London Broncos, was fined half a month’s salary and given a written warning and Josh Walters, Ash Handley and Robbie Mulhern all received a verbal warning.
“I made a mistake,” admitted Hardaker, who was the most high-profile of the players involved. Apart from myself, it has affected the club and the players as well. Now that’s done and dusted and we’re picking up some form on the pitch, I have got a smile back on my face.
“That’s starting to show in the games I am playing at the moment. I love playing rugby, that’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was seven years old.
“The media stuff and everything that comes along with the rugby was something I didn’t quite expect and
it was hard to grasp, but the mistakes you make, you have to make sure you learn from them.
“I am glad it’s all done and dusted now and I can concentrate on a good season with Leeds. At the moment we are sitting top of the table, four points clear and hopefully we can keep that going.”
Hardaker received a written warning from Rhinos after his early exit from England’s World Cup camp two years ago and served a five-game ban last season for abusing a referee.
He insisted he is determined to stay on the straight and narrow this time.
“We talked about it after the England situation, but this is a bit more serious,” Hardaker conceded.
“I spoke to Gary and Brian Mac (McDermott, Rhinos’ coach) about it and they’ve said this is probably the last chance saloon, kind of thing.
“I know that myself and I am very disappointed and upset with what has happened. It is something I need to fix up and it’s something I will be doing away from the club and doing for myself.
“It will be good for me and my family.
“As long as I am happy and my family’s happy, I will come to training happy and hopefully I’ll take that on to the pitch as well.”
Hardaker added: “The club have been brilliant with me.
“Brian has been outstanding since I’ve been at the club. He’s supported me since I came to the club in 2011 and I can’t thank him enough.
“Gary is very professional in the way he goes about things. He has handled it very well and supported me 110 per cent.
“You can’t ask for much more than that.
“He has been to my house and spoken to my mum and stepdad and we’ve all come to a good conclusion about what has happened.
“All parties are happy and I just need to crack on with rugby now, which is what I enjoy most of all.
“I regret what’s happened, but it has all gone now. Leeds are a great organisation and I’m thankful for them helping me through it.”
Hardaker revealed he has asked for his forfeited wage to be donated to the Leeds Rugby Foundation and the Prince of Wales Hospice in his home town of Pontefract.