Hardaker out to impress for Castleford against Leeds

Zak Hardaker is eagerly looking forward to tonight’s derby game between Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos, but insists is not just about him proving a point.

The Pontefract-born full-back was shown the door by the Rhinos after being voted Man of Steel and being a big player in their treble win.

Zak Hardaker on England training this week. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Zak Hardaker on England training this week. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

This will be his first game against his former Leeds team-mates, but Hardaker says it is not just about him with plenty at stake as both sides are vying for top spot.

He said: “It’s massive to be playing against Leeds – something I looked at the start of the season.

“It should be exciting to be down at the Jungle with Leeds coming.

“But I’m not really bothered about what I need to prove to Leeds or anyone.

“As long as I play well for Castleford that’s all I’m bothered about really.

“It was time for a change for myself and I just thought it’d be in the best interests for both parties that I’d not be there.”

Hardaker is pleased with the way things have gone for him and the team since his switch to the Tigers.

He said: “It’s been good. We’ve had a really good pre-season and were really excited for the start.

“We played a tough game against Leigh and that could have been a banana skin, but we came out of that pretty good.

“We then got the week off and came up against a strong Warrington team who played very well the week before.

“We started off pretty well, but can’t rest on our laurels. We need to keep going and have a tough fixture this week so we need to carry on with that. It’s still early days, but the Warrington game was pretty good.”

Asked about whether Castleford can go on and emulate what the Rhinos achieved with him in the team, Hardaker was not ready to go out on a limb prediction-wise, but he expects a strong top four challenge this year.

He continued: “We’ve only played two games so it’s hard to say, but just looking from last couple of seasons Cas have been progressing very well and always done better than previous year.

“So if you go by that, hopefully finish top four and then it’s up to us. It’s in our hands.

“We have the squad for it and the coaching staff and the belief so as long as we’ve got all that and take it into each week and get the wins sure we can be there at the end.”

Hardaker, meanwhile, was pleased to be back in the England set up at the first of the new elite squad get togethers this week after being left out of the Four Nations last year.

He added: “I was disappointed when I didn’t get picked for the Four Nations. And then to get the call to go to Dubai I was really excited about that. But then of course it got cancelled but I was just excited to be in the frame.

“With the new structure we’re going through, meeting up and training through the week it is really exciting. It gives me an extra added buzz throughout the season to try and achieve something at the end of the year with the World Cup.

“I think the meetings and training throughout the year is going to benefit us. Hopefully we can get the combinations we’ve probably been lacking towards the back end of the year and get that structure through us for a full season so hopefully it comes together in the World Cup.”