ALL EYES will be on the visiting team’s full-back when Castleford Tigers meet Wigan Warriors at the Jungle tomorrow.
That was his last game for Tigers before a drugs ban led to him being sacked from the club and later picked up by Wigan.
Many Cas fans still blame Hardaker for their Grand Final loss to Leeds Rhinos, which came two days after he was suspended and Tigers coach Daryl Powell predicted: “Zak will get the usual reception for a player who has left a team in circumstances you wouldn’t want.
“It will be pretty vocal, but I’ve had them myself going back to certain clubs. I don’t think he’ll worry about it too much and we’ve just got to make sure he doesn’t play well.”
Powell has no doubt Hardaker, who he also coached at Featherstone Rovers, is one of the best players in the competition. He added: “I thought he started off a bit slow, but it looks like he’s getting some form back now.
“Carrying the ball out of backfield is one of his key strengths and it looks like he’s doing that as he usually does.
“He’s a good player, he’s made mistakes and you move on; that’s life.”
Tigers are aiming to avoid a third successive defeat. Powell insisted: “It’s going to be a big challenge for us, but I’m confident we’re going to play well. We’re looking forward to it and we are up for the fight.”
Paul McShane, who played at scrum-half against Leeds last week, is suspended so – with Luke Gale, Jamie Ellis and Jordan Rankin all injured – Tigers will go into the game with only one half-back, Jake Trueman.
Junior Moors (neck) and Chris Clarkson (calf) also drop out, but Mitch Clark and Nathan Massey could return after injury and Will Maher, Tuoyo Egodo and Jacques O’Neill also come into contention.
Sean O’Loughlin, Joe Greenwood and Tom Davies are in contention for Wigan, with Liam Paisley dropping out from the side which beat Catalans Dragons last week.
Castleford Tigers: from Clare, Clark, Cook, Eden, Egodo, Foster, Holmes, Maher, Massey, Mata’utia, Millington, Milner, Minikin, O’Neill, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Trueman, Turner, Watts.
Wigan Warriors: from Bullock, Burgess, Byrne, Davies, Flower, Gildart, Greenwood, Hardaker, Isa, Leuluai, Manfredi, Navarrete, O’Loughlin, Partington, Sammut, Sarginson, Shorocks, Smithies, Williams,
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield).
Kick-off: Tomorrow, 7.45pm.