Hardaker interview: '˜This is the last bad chapter in the book. I want the fairytale ending with Wigan'
Zak Hardaker has promised fans there won't be any more off-field dramas after completing his move to Wigan.
He has ended weeks of speculation by signing a four-year deal, which kicks in from the start of 2019 once he has served his doping suspension.
He knows some will question the decision to recruit him but, in a sit-down interview with the Wigan Post, he said: “Just give me time. All I can say is, give me time to prove myself.
“Moving over here is a big thing. I’ve spoken to a few of the boys and I know Wigan is a club which looks after you, but I can say there’s nothing to worry about.
“I’ll be here with my girlfriend, and I’ll be concentrating on what I want in life, and that is to be successful at rugby.
“I want to win trophies, I want to be in the England side. I want to be Man of Steel again,100 per cent.
“I want the fairytale ending now. This is the last bad chapter in the book.
“As soon as I lift a trophy, I want to think, ‘I know where I’ve been and where I am now’, I want this to be a journey.”
Few doubt the former Castleford full-back’s talent - the England international has won one Man of Steel and was shortlisted for last year’s award.
But his capture may polarise opinion among fans, given his track-record.
He missed out on the 2013 World Cup and was fined by Leeds after he “acted unprofessionally”. In 2014 he was given a five-match ban after being found guilty of homophobic abuse and the following year, assaulted a student.
He had kept out of trouble until a fateful night last September when, during a drinking binge on the anniversary of a personally distressing incident - details of which were redacted in UK Anti-Doping’s full verdict - he took cocaine. “It was just a weird one - my girlfriend was at work, my parents were away - my head was thinking a million things,” he recalled. “I went out, trying to forget the thing I had been thinking about, and it escalated. I ended up forgetting what I was doing and where I was. I ended up taking (cocaine). I wasn’t even thinking.”
Hardaker says this enforced lay-off has jolted him - being away from the game, training on his own and earning a living by taking on a sales job for a cleaning firm.
“Because even when I’d been suspended before, I’d been in rugby league. And now - watching it on TV, not being around lads - it’s frustrating, I feel like I’ve wasted a full year of myself,” he said.
“It boils me. I watched Saints-Cas last weekend and I was thinking, ‘It’s my own fault I’m here and not playing’.
“I know - for a fact - if I have any issues outside, I’ll talk to someone. I’ve found that difficult before and I’ve just bottled it up, and that was the problem.”
Hardaker was suspended on the Thursday before last October’s Grand Final, which Leeds won 24-6.
“I feel if I’d played, we’d have won,” said the 26-year-old. “All week, I was telling people we’re going to win and then on the Thursday, I knew I wouldn’t be a part of it.
“I was devastated. I felt so sorry for the boys.”
He was subsequently sacked by Castleford for breach of contract.
The Warriors’ interest in Hardaker emerged in February as he awaited to discover his fate over his failed cocaine test last year.
He was later suspended for 14 months - meaning he is effectively free to play from the start of next season.
His preferred position is full-back, a spot which will be vacated by Catalans-bound Sam Tomkins later this year.
Uncertainty over Oliver Gildart’s future raised the prospect of Hardaker playing at centre, but the 21-year-old Gildart signed a new deal with his hometown club this week and Dan Sarginson is under contract for next season.
French livewire Morgan Escare is also under contract for the next two years but has failed to nail down a regular place in the side this season.
It is unclear whether Thomas Leuluai will play on in 2019 - if he hangs up his boots to take up a coaching role, Sam Powell may play more at hooker and Escare in the halves.
“I’ll play anywhere - full-back, centre, back-row even, I’ll slot in where they want me,” said Hardaker.
He plans to move over to Wigan this summer and under UKAD rules can begin training with his new team-mates from August, three months before his ban expires.
Hardaker hopes interacting with fans, sponsors and even staff at the club will convince any sceptics that his track-record paints an unfair portrayal of him.
“People who don’t know me, they see what I’ve done and... it frustrates me, because if you know me, you’ll know I’m not too bad,” he said.