Castleford Tigers tight-lipped about Hardaker’s future

Zak Hardaker.
Zak Hardaker.
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CASTLEFORD TIGERS are keeping tight-lipped about Zak Hardaker’s future at the club after he was dropped sensationally for Saturday’s Betfred Super League Grand Final.

Tigers’ Dream Team full-back will miss the Old Trafford showdown with his former side Leeds Rhinos after being made unavailable for selection because of an unspecified disciplinary issue. The revelation – two days after Hardaker was runner-up to team-mate Luke Gale in the voting for Man of Steel – left Tigers fans stunned and threatened to cast a shadow over the biggest day in the club’s history.

Castleford's Greg Eden.

Castleford's Greg Eden.

Tigers confirmed Hardaker’s omission in a footnote to the announcement of their 19-man squad.

A statement revealed: “Zak Hardaker is unavailable for selection due to a breach of club rules.

“The club will make no further comment at this point as full attention is focused on Saturday’s Grand Final.”

News of Hardaker’s omission was a shock to Rhinos, but Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington stressed: “It is not our issue.

Jy Hitchcox.

Jy Hitchcox.

“It won’t change our focus or preparation in any way.”

Hardaker’s time at Leeds was marred by disciplinary issues and he joined Tigers on loan from Rhinos in the close-season before signing a contract until the end of 2021 in July.

Along with Gale, he has been Tigers’ outstanding player this season, scoring 13 tries in 30 appearances.

He is among just four Tigers players with previous Grand Final experience and the only one to have won the Super League trophy.

Joel Monaghan, twice a Grand Final runner-up, is vying with Jy Hitchcox to replace Hardaker in Tigers’ backline.

Either player could come in on a wing, possibly with leading try scorer Greg Eden switching to full-back.

The good news for Tigers is Oliver Holmes’ inclusion in the initial 19 after recovering from a groin injury which kept him out of last Friday’s semi-final win over St Helens. There is no place for veteran Andy Lynch, who will retire at the end of the season.