Castleford Tigers boss Daryl Powell does not expect a likely hostile reception will affect Zak Hardaker on his first return to the Mend-A-Hose Jungle as a Wigan Warriors player tomorrow night.
Hardaker was a key member of the Tigers’ League Leaders’ Shield winning team of 2017 until a drugs ban ruled him out of the grand Final and subsequently led to him leaving the club.
The Pontefract-born full-back can expect to feel the wrath of the Cas fans as he turns out for the 2018 Grand Final winners, especially with the historical dislike of Wigan. But he coped well with a similarly hostile reception when he went back to another former club, Leeds, in a Tigers shirt.
Cas head coach Powell – who has known Hardaker since coaching him when he was a teenager at Featherstone – believes he will be able to cope with what the crowd aims at him and will not be the only player to offer a threat in an exciting Wigan backline.
He said: “Zak will get the usual reception for a player who’s left a team in circumstances that 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, we’ve just got to make sure he doesn’t play well.
“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. If he has a point to prove I don’t know what that point would be. He’s a good player, he’s made mistakes and you move on, that’s life.
“He’s part of their backfield line-up that is giving teams problems. Their outside backs cause you a lot of trouble with the way they carry the ball. We’ve got to make sure that the people we have out there do a good job for us.”
Castleford go into the game off the back of three defeats in four games and will be without up to six injured players plus the suspended Paul McShane, who has received a three-match ban. But Powell is confident that whatever team he is able to put out can do a good job.
He explained: “There’s a rivalry built up over the last few years so it will be a big game. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. They are coming into some form, they have got some players back and I don’t think they’ll have too many sat on their backsides.
“There will be challenges for us everywhere, but I’m confident we’re going to play well and we’re looking forward to it.
“The fans usually play a part for us. When it’s tough the fans are even more important and we’ve got a tough battle.
“But we’re up for the fight, they will get behind us and it will be a good atmosphere as it always is against Wigan here.”
Castleford hope to have Nathan Massey back from injury for tomorrow’s game and can call on new signing Daniel Smith, but Junior Moors (neck) and Chris Clarkson (calf) have added to their injury list. Prop Mitch Clark is back in training, but this week’s game may have come too soon for him while back-rower Mike McMeeken is expected to be back in contention next week.