LEEDS RHINOS chief executive Gary Hetherington insists former Man of Steel Zak Hardaker needs a new start - and his loan move to Castleford Tigers “suits all parties”.
Hardaker – Super League’s Man of Steel last year – will spend 2017 at Castleford with a view to the move from Leeds being made permanent at the end of the campaign.
The 25-year-old Pontefract-born full-back has been on Rhinos’ transfer list since last June and Hetherington said: “It has all come together fairly quickly with Castleford and Zak himself.
“The arrangement suits all parties and he is going to be going with our best wishes.
“The intention was he would start next season with another club and he could not have a better club than Castleford in that regard.
“There is a fee and then a further amount of money at their option.
“They have the option of completing the full transfer at the end of the season so there won’t be any haggling at that time.
“Otherwise he would come back. He would still have two years to run on his Leeds Rhinos contract.”
Rhinos announced their 30-man squad for 2017 on Monday and Hetherington said Hardaker’s exit will not result in a new player being brought in.
“From the day Zak went on the transfer list he never figured in our plans for 2017,” he added.
“We planned for life without him. He needed a fresh start and he has got that. It [the loan] gives Castleford an opportunity to weigh things up and likewise Zak has that opportunity as well.”
Hardaker was a Grand Final winner with Leeds in 2011, 2012 and 2015 and featured in the 2014 and 2015 Challenge Cup triumphs, but his time at Leeds was marred by disciplinary issues.
He ended the 2016 campaign on loan at Australian club Penrith Panthers and had been wanted by Huddersfield Giants, but opted instead to join Castleford.
Asked why Rhinos were willing to part with a star player, Hetherington said: “That decision was taken when Zak asked to go on the transfer list.
“He decided to further his career at another club. At the time we made a statement saying both parties agreed it would be in everybody’s best interests if that was to happen.
“Nothing has changed from that. We recognise it is in both the club’s and Zak’s interest to start his career somewhere else.”
Hardaker is confident he can rediscover the form which earned him the prestigious Man of Steel Award in 2015.
He said: “I thought I was already doing that with Penrith.
“Even though I didn’t play as many games as I’d have liked in Australia I thought I did pretty well.
“It was probably the best I felt playing-wise and head-wise for a while and I was happy with how I was going.
“But the difficulty is not many people watch the NRL over here so it might have gone a little unnoticed.
“I’m looking forward to doing it all over here and let everyone know I’m in pretty good shape.
“And I’m delighted to be at Cas; since Daryl (Powell) took over he has taken them to a different level and they play a real attractive style of football that I think will suit me.”
Pontefract-born Hardaker links up once more with Powell, the coach who guided him as a teenager at Featherstone Rovers before his £60,000 move to Leeds at the end of 2010.
“Daryl brought me up as a kid at Featherstone more or less,” he said.
“It was a massive influence him being here. He knows me personally as well as professionally and that was important – working for a coach who I think could develop my game further but also knows me well as a person.”
Castleford have already signed a new full-back – Greg Eden from Brisbane Broncos – and freed up salary cap space for Hardaker’s arrival by loaning centre Ben Crooks to Leigh Centurions while prolific winger Denny Solomona is still linked with a £300,000 move to Sale Sharks.
“Daryl’s not really spoken about which position I’ll play yet,” he added.
“That’s what pre-season is for to have a look. All I asked for was an opportunity and I’m pretty sure I’ll show Cas I’m worth it.”
Hardaker, who scored 67 tries in 155 games for the Rhinos, winning three Super League titles, two Challenge Cups and the World Club Challenge, added: “Leeds gave me the opportunity in Super League.
“Even when there was some trouble there, Gary (Hetherington) kept me when other clubs might have thrown me out. I’ll be forever grateful but I’m looking forward to linking up with Cas after a stressful few weeks.”