Super League: Wigan could throw axed Hardaker a lifeline

Zak Hardaker in action for Castleford against Wigan last year. PIC: Anna Gowthorpe/
Zak Hardaker in action for Castleford against Wigan last year. PIC: Anna Gowthorpe/
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Wigan Warriors coach Shaun Wane has admitted an interest in signing Zak Hardaker and suggests his club could get the player’s career back on track.

Full-back Hardaker is a free agent after Castleford terminated his contract following his failed drugs test last September.

Wigan Warriors head coach, Shaun Wane.

Wigan Warriors head coach, Shaun Wane.

He is yet to discover his punishment for alleged cocaine use as UK Anti-Doping continue its investigations and could be handed a two-year ban, but Wigan have emerged as a likely destination.

Speaking at his weekly press conference, Wane said: “Zak is a fantastic player and any player of his calibre that comes up we’d be interested in.

“But I’ve not heard anything. I don’t look after that, it’s down to (chairman) Ian (Lenagan) and (rugby director) Rads (Kris Radlinski).

“I admire him like I do many other players in Super League and the NRL.

Former Wigan Warriors hooker Michael McIlorum. PIC: Dave Howarth/PA Wire

Former Wigan Warriors hooker Michael McIlorum. PIC: Dave Howarth/PA Wire

“He’s a natural rugby player and can play anywhere.”

Hardaker, 26, who had four years left on a contract he signed with the Tigers only last June, has experienced a chequered career.

In 2014, while at Leeds he was banned for five games after being found guilty of homophobic abuse in a match against Warrington and a year later agreed to take an anger management course after admitting assaulting a student.

But there is no doubting his talent.

He was Man of Steel in 2015 and, after re-capturing his best form following his move to Castleford, was runner-up to team-mate Luke Gale for the 2017 award. He was a certainty for England’s 2017 World Cup squad but his career was brought to a sudden halt on the eve of the Grand Final when details emerged of his failed drugs test.

Wigan stood by another England international, Gareth Hock. when he was given a two-year ban for cocaine use in 2009 and Wane says they helped turn around the lifestyle of Leeds-born hooker Michael McIlorum.

Asked if signing Hardaker would send out the wrong message, Wane said: “I don’t know all the details of what Zak has done – I would never ask him about that.

“But I know him as a person, I’ve met him many times and he’s a fantastic character.

“There will be more to it but I’m not really interested, I just know Zak is a very good player and we want good people at this club.

“If Zak has made an error, he’s going to be punished for it.

“There’s nobody more difficult than Micky Mac in other areas off the field and we stuck with him and made him into a fantastic person. We’re a club that looks after our players.”

Wigan have room on their salary cap following the release of prop forward Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Wane says he has no plans to sign a replacement prop. He is happy with his current crop of front-rowers and has French international Romain Navarrete and new signing Gabe Hamlin waiting in the wings.

“I’ve got some middles and everybody is fit at the moment,” he said. “We’re more than covered.”

Wigan travel to Warrington tonight in Betfred Super League.

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