Castleford Tigers full-back Zak Hardaker is gearing up for a tough start to the new season with newly promoted Leigh Centurions set to offer a physical test for his new team.
Hardaker remembers how close Leigh ran his then Leeds Rhinos team on their way to their Challenge Cup success in 2015 and expects another big examination from a team with nothing to lose on their return to Super League.
Friday’s Betfred Super League opener at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle promises to be the game of the weekend and the Tigers are not taking their opponents lightly.
“We’re expecting a massive test from Leigh,” said Hardaker, who is in line to make his Cas Super League debut following his year-long loan move from Leeds.
“They’ve recruited really well. We’ve seen lots of footage of them and collectively they look a good team.
“They are going to be all guns blazing and fired up for their first game in Super League and will probably bring a good following so it should be a great atmosphere and a pretty good game to start the season.
“It’s always a tough one playing a team that’s just got promoted. They’ve probably got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“They’ve got some really good players and will be going for us for sure.
“I played against Leigh in the Challenge Cup two years ago for Leeds and I think we scored in the last five minutes to put about eight points between us. It was a very tough match, very physical.
“I’ve seen their results in the Championship and they’ve been destroying teams and making it look pretty easy.
“I’m expecting them to be quick and pretty physical.
“The players they have signed are top quality Super League players so they are definitely going to be dangerous and we have to make sure we’re on our game.”
Hardaker believes it will be a great chance for both sides to put a marker down for what they can do in 2017.
He added: “It’s a good opportunity for us on Friday and they are probably looking at it that it’s a good opportunity for them as well. We’re both looking to a marker down.
“It’s important for us to play well on Friday and show the competition what we can achieve this year and put some fear into teams.
“There’s no pressure from outside our bubble. We’ve got some targets which we are aiming to achieve as a club, but from the outside there’s no influence.
“I know people are talking it up, but it’s all about us and how we play. If we play as well as we’ve been training these last couple of weeks then we’ll be up there for sure.”