Talking Rugby: Zak Hardaker's Wigan Warriors departure is disappointing but best for both parties
It would be a lie to say that it’s not disappointing to see Zak Hardaker leave Wigan Warriors.
He’s one of those players who is great to have in your team, and has given a strong contribution over the last few years.
Of course, it never seems to be an entirely smooth ride for him, with controversy never too far away, but that hasn’t really been the case for the majority of his time with Wigan.
On the whole, during his stint at the DW Stadium, he had seemingly knuckled down and matured.
He certainly fitted in well on and off the field, putting his past mistakes behind him.
During the 2019 season he was probably one of the standout players at fullback, and proved himself to be a smart buy.
As time has gone on, he’s been rotated into a number of different positions, to accommodate some of the other players in the squad, really proving his worth.
This has certainly been the case this season particularly, but he looked happy to do so, and still performed at a really high level, both in attack and defence.
Then, a few weeks ago he was dropped from Matty Peet’s squad for the Easter period for dropping below the club’s standards away from the field.
This came as quite the shock, considering he had just put in a superb performance in the quarter-final game against Wakefield and everything seemed going well.
While the full story behind the decision hasn’t been made public, it was certainly disappointing to see the coach be put in that position.
Questions had been raised during the off-season about his future, with him wanting to move closer to home, but after that failed to materialise he had committed himself to the Warriors.
Clearly something, somewhere had broken down and changed.
While initially Hardaker was set to be reconsidered for the squad again after being dropped, the decision was eventually made to terminate his contract with immediate effect.
It’s a disappointing way for his time with Wigan to end, but no doubt the club have made the right call for both parties.
Peet gave the 30-year-old his best wishes in the press conference soon after the announcement was made.
Hardaker is a genuinely nice bloke to speak to, and seemed like a really popular member of the squad.
Hopefully things can work out for him, but it’s disappointing that he’s not been able to make it happen with the Warriors, when everything was in place for him.
He’s now back with Leeds, and it’s a very understandable move for both parties.
Hardaker wants to be closer to his young family and the Rhinos need reinforcements in that area of the field.
Realistically, this could be his last chance to feature at the top level, although many said that about his move to the Warriors.
He’s certainly still got the ability to be one of the best, and can drag Leeds up the Super League table, it’s just about making the most of the opportunity.
Hopefully he will be fit enough to feature in the next few weeks, after suffering a suspected seizure on Tuesday.
As for Wigan, they have to move on.
While Hardaker did have a role to play, he can be replaced by those already in the squad.
Iain Thornley has just come back from injury, and will be a key player.
It’s been a frustrating start to the season for the centre, but hopefully all his troubles are now behind him.
As he proved in his previous stint in cherry and white, he can be a really important member of the squad.
Meanwhile, there will now also be more opportunities for Sam Halsall to step up to the first team and continue his progress, while Kai Pearce-Paul will be another great option when he returns from his injury.
Safe to say Peet isn’t short of options, especially when there are also players like John Bateman and Willie Isa who can change positions if really necessary, with the pair having already done good jobs when called upon.
The true star of the show for Wigan at the moment remains to be Jai Field at fullback, as he provided a moment of magic to win the game against Salford Red Devils last time out.
The way he picked up the ball well inside his own half, and sprinted through the gaps to find the try line was truly exceptional.
Of course, his pace plays a big part of the way he plays, but his vision to see the space is unbelievable.
He would be an asset to any side in the competition.
Friday’s game against Warrington Wolves will be another strong test.
While Daryl Powell’s side haven’t been in the greatest of form this year, they still have a lot of dangerous players who could damage Wigan, including a few former players.
It’s hard to say why things haven’t completely clicked for them so far, with five wins and five defeats under their belt in Super League.
Of course, getting used to a new coach can take some time.
It isn’t always going to be an instant fit, especially when both parties haven’t really experienced too much change in their circumstances in the last few years.
Powell spent a long period with Castleford Tigers, so no doubt still adapting to being in a new environment.
With plenty of experience under his belt and some excellent players at his disposal, there is no doubt things will click at some point.