Former Leeds and Featherstone star Zak aims to win over Castleford fans

Zak Hardaker: "Castleford was the perfect fit."
Zak Hardaker: "Castleford was the perfect fit."

New signing Zak Hardaker aims to repay the faith Castleford Tigers and their coach Daryl Powell have shown in him.

Full-back Hardaker, who won the 2015 Man of Steel award, has joined Tigers on loan from Leeds Rhinos for the 2017 season with a view to the deal being made permanent after that.

Joining Tigers reunites Hardaker with team boss Powell, who gave him his break in the professional game at Featherstone Rovers six years ago.

“I spoke to Daryl a few weeks ago and he made it quite clear he really wanted me here,” said Hardaker.

“Daryl was a massive factor, how much he said he wanted me at the club and how much he rated me. It made me feel pretty good that somebody really wanted me. I spoke to my agent and said this is the club I want to come to.”

Hardaker confirmed he is “happy” with the loan arrangement, which gives both him and Castleford an opportunity to see how things work out before making a long-term commitment.

“All I wanted was a shot, just to show what I am capable of this year,” he added.

“I spoke to Daryl about that so I am just looking forward to a great year.”

Asked if he feels he has a point to prove, Hardaker stressed: “I don’t feel like I have got to prove it, but in myself I want to prove it.

“Daryl has given me an opportunity and Castleford have so I want to repay them by playing as well as I can and hopefully getting some wins.

“The squad’s not been far off the last couple of years so if I can help in any way to increase the league position into the top-four or semi-finals or the Challenge Cup that’s what I am here to do. It’s not about proving a point, it’s just I really want to do that.”

Hardaker’s first challenge is to win over Castleford’s fans. After playing for two of their fiercest rivals, he accepts he has not always seen eye-to-eye with his new club.

“But as a player and a person this is the best opportunity for me,” he said.

“I am really pleased to be here.

“There’s a game on Boxing Day and hopefully that will be the first opportunity to show what I really want to do for Castleford Tigers.

“People will have their opinions and they’re entitled to that and I’ve got mine, but as soon as I get on the pitch I can show them with my passion and my performances that I really want to be here and how much playing for Castleford means.”

Hardaker was transfer-listed by Leeds in June and finished the season on loan at Australian club Penrith Panthers.

He confirmed there was interest from other clubs - including a possible loan deal at NRL outfit Newcastle Knights - but Castleford was his top option for 2017.

“I am really glad it’s sorted and excited for what will hopefully be a great year,” he said.

“My mum works in Castleford so everybody’s been asking if I’m coming here.

“Castleford was the perfect fit. I was offered Newcastle on loan for a year, but I wasn’t really interested. Being out there in Australia on my own, it was a bit different to being here. Now I live about five minutes up the road (from the Jungle), five minutes away from my auntie, five minutes away from my friends.”