Leeds Rhinos: We will all be sorry to see Zak go – but that is the nature of sport, says Carl Ablett

Zak Hardaker
Zak Hardaker
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OBVIOUSLY, the big news this week has been that Zak Hardaker’s been transfer-listed at Leeds.

We are disappointed as players. Zak is someone who’s played the last six years with us and we’ve seen him grow and develop into a brilliant player.

As it’s my testimonial season I’ve had to write my own Dream Team from those I’ve played with.

Zak has made that side so it shows how much I rate him and really enjoy playing with him.

I’ve loved him being on my side and to watch him develop and grow into being Man of Steel last year has been great.

Of course, it is disappointing when you see one of your players go but it’s part of sport and no matter who you are or how many games you’ve played it’s always a sad time.

Sometimes it happens for different reasons and this is probably part of our evolution as a squad.

It’s not ideal – we don’t want to lose Zak – but he’s got desires to play in Australia and the club is not standing in his way.

But knowing him and what he is like, Zak will be committed to, firstly, getting back fit so he can can rejoin us on the pitch and, then, performing at 100 per cent for as long as he’s got a Leeds jersey on.

You know what you’re going to get from Zak – that 100 per cent commitment on the field come what may. He’ll always put his body on the line for the cause and that won’t change.

When I first saw Zak as a scrawny teenager signing from Featherstone I don’t think I could ever envisage him going on and achieving what he has.

Zak might say that, too, but then again maybe not – he’s never lacked self-confidence!

He works really hard on his game and has done since day one. When he first came here he was only about 70 kilos and that little scrawny lad but as soon as he came into the side you could see he could play.

When you look back at the pics you can see the physical development since and he’s kept putting in the hard work on his game, too, and got the rewards.

He’s now an England international and one of the best players in Super League.

A lot of that is down to his own dedication and talent but also the great culture we have here at Leeds Rhinos to allow him to flourish like he has.

You can’t blame him for wanting to go try the NRL. I can see the attraction, for sure, especially for a young lad like himself.

Zak’s single, has no real ties here and so he can out there and really throw himself into it wherever he does end up.

I’m sure he’ll enjoy it, like a lot of other England players have, and enjoy both the football and that lifestyle – the beach, the sun – while their salary cap compared to ours means it will always be attractive. The more successful our players are, too, the more Aussie clubs will come looking over here so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a few more go. That’s the nature of the business at the moment.

There was times earlier in my career when I did contemplate what it’d be like to play in the NRL but it would have been hard to leave what I had at the time.

I could sense there was something special happening at this club and there was.

I’ve really enjoyed life at Leeds Rhinos. I knew something was brewing here and I’m glad I’ve been here to see all it all come to fruition over the last 10 years so I’ve no regrets.

But I can certainly see why players nowadays would look at Australia.

All we can do now here is focus on finding the next Zak Hardaker.

Whether the club decides to buy an established player, look overseas, pluck one from the lower leagues or whatever, who knows? Obviously, we’ve got Ashton Golding coming through who is a great talent. I coached him in the Under-16s and he always had unbelievable footwork and great speed.

He’s a little bit raw but is still only young and will grow into that full-back position.

Players do, just like Zak, whose returns and tackle busts have come on leaps and bounds over the years. Ashton will look at him and think he can tread the same path and I’m sure he will given time and if he keeps working hard.