The highs and lows of Zac Hardaker’s career – on and off the pitch

Zac Hardaker’s career has been marked by dizzying highs and lows - both on and off the pitch.

A powerful and explosive full-back and centre, he first came to prominence with Leeds Rhinos in the early 2010s, forming a burgeoning star in an all-conquering side that won every trophy in the domestic game.

He won the Man of Steel - rugby league’s highest individual prize - in 2015 aged just 21 and established himself as an England regular.

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Away from rugby, however, Hardaker found himself attracting headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Wigan Warriors' Zac Hardaker looks dejected after the game

In 2013, he was handed a £2,500 fine by Leeds for “unprofessional conduct” for his behaviour prior to withdrawing from the 2013 England World Cup squad.

In 2014, he was banned for five matches and fined after he was found guilty of making homophobic remarks to openly-gay referee James Child.

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The following year he was arrested and interviewed over an attack on a 22-year-old student. No criminal charges were brought but Hardaker admitted the offence and agreed to pay £200 compensation and write a letter of apology to the victim.

As Leeds fortunes declined, Hardaker demanded a move away and, after a spell with Penrith Panthers in Australia, he landed a move to Castleford Tigers.

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Tigers Greg Eden with Michael Shenton & Zac Hardaker after Eden grabs try two of first half hat trick

The move appeared to have given Hardaker a new sense of purpose but old patterns quickly resurfaced.

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In 2017, he was dropped by the Tigers for a breach of club rules. It later emerged that he had tested positive for taking a banned substance, cocaine.

Then, 12 months later, he was banned from the roads after being stopped by police and found to be twice the legal drink-drive limit.

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His move to Wigan appeared to have resulted in a return to the form of his early career.

Leeds Rhinos' Joel Moon (left) celebrates with Zac Hardaker and Kallum Watkins (right) after scoring his side's second try during the First Utility Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford, Manchester
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However, he was dropped from the squad for the club’s Good Friday derby clash with rival St Helens.

Days later rumours circulated he was set to be sacked by the club.

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The club confirmed today he was “leaving with immediate affect” and went on to lament the fate of a “talented and universally liked player”.

“We are all extremely disappointed that his time at the club has had to end in this way,” executive director, Kris Radlinski added.

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The nature of those circumstances remain unclear.

Regardless, it may well be the final curtain is now called on a promising yet tumultuous and troubled career.