THERE SEEMS to be plenty of NRL clubs interested in signing Zak Hardaker but whether any will meet Leeds Rhinos’ £300,000 valuation of their reigning Man of Steel remains to be seen.
The Super League champions announced on Saturday that they had agreed to put the England full-back on the transfer list after he made known his desire to test his skills in Australia.
Newcastle Knights, Canberra Raiders – where Hardaker’s international colleagues Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead are excelling – and Gold Coast Titans are all thought to be keen on brokering a deal.
Nevertheless, Hardaker, who has won three Grand Finals and two Challenge Cups with Leeds, will not come cheap given he still has three-and-half years remaining on a four-year contract signed only last July.
It is understandable why Leeds – currently bottom of Super League – will want to hold out for a sizeable fee; for all he has struggled this term, the 24-year-old was the best player in the competition last season and featured in all three Tests as England defeated the world’s number one-ranked side, New Zealand.
Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “We have agreed with Zak that the opportunity to continue his career at another club is in both parties best interests.
“Zak has established his credentials as a world-class player and, at the age of 24, he has so much to look forward to.
“He has given great service to the Rhinos as a full-back, winger and centre and he will remain part of our squad until a transfer is agreed.
“I have no doubt he will continue to give his best as he always does.”
Hardaker signed from Featherstone Rovers in 2011 and has gone onto make 154 appearances for Leeds, scoring 67 tries and 45 goals.
He has, of course, found controversy along the way, fined by Leeds for “unprofessional behavior” prior to his early departure from England’s 2013 World Cup squad and receiving a five-game ban for making homophobic comments two years ago.
He was then fined, again, by his club and ordered to attend anger management courses last year after admitting an assault.
Hardaker, who lost his ever-present record when missing Friday’s loss to Catalans Dragons with a shoulder injury, said: “I explained my desire to leave and test myself in the NRL to Gary several weeks ago and I am pleased the club is prepared to release me.
“I have had five great years here and have had so many wonderful times.
“I will continue to help the team whilst I am here but I am also excited with what the future may hold for me.”
Leeds coach Brian McDermott said: “Zak is a special talent and a fierce competitor who will do well wherever he plays.
“We won’t be quite the same without him, but we’ve come to this decision and he will leave with our best wishes.”
Hardaker is set to miss the next three weeks of action due to that shoulder injury but will hope his future is sorted by that point.