Wigan Warriors' Zak Hardaker says he will be spurred on by fans' abuse at Castleford Tigers
Zak Hardaker has vowed to use the hostile reception at Castleford to his advantage tomorrow night.
The full-back played a starring role during the Tigers’ whirlwind 2017 campaign and was shortlisted for the coveted Steve Prescott Man of Steel – only to be suspended ahead of their maiden appearance in a Grand Final, which they lost.
And he is braced for a noisy reception in his first match against his former club.
Hardaker said: “I understand it’s going to be hostile and I know I’m going to get some stick. It’s going to be a little bit upsetting but I’m preparing for it. I hope it will spur me on though and work in my favour.
“If someone is calling me every name under the sun and it gets me angry, I’ll try take it out on someone on their team. I know from warm-up to getting out of there on the team bus it’s going to be there.”
Hardaker was banned for 14 months for testing positive for cocaine and after being axed by the Tigers, Wigan handed him the chance to revive his career.
Asked whether jeers may be unfair given he was sacked, the 27-year-old replied: “I’ve been in rugby for 10 years now, and if Sam (Tomkins) got booed at Wigan when he didn’t do anything wrong then I know what’s coming my way!
“The difference is (the DW) is a huge stadium so Sam was a bit far from the booing on Sunday, but at Castleford the fans can almost touch you so it’ll be a bit different.
“I’ve got mixed emotions. I’m upset with how it finished and I enjoyed my time there – the lads and the fans were great with me.
"When I saw the fixture list initially I didn’t think about it too much because it was eight or nine weeks away, but it’s flown around.
“I don’t think my mum is going to go because it’s her birthday - though I’ve warned her she may hear the abuse even more because it’ll be on the TV!
“But you’ve got to get in there as a professional and get it over and done with.”
Hardaker has made steady improvement this season and scored his first try for the club in last Sunday’s 42-0 thrashing of Catalans.
With the three-quarters all impressing, Adrian Lam declared his back-five the best in Super League - and Hardaker is certainly enjoying the link-up play with his fellow backs.
He said: “Our back five is brilliant; Saints are the ones to catch but our back-five is really good. We’re getting a good connection together. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it develops when the ground firms up.
“Budgie is quicker than he was before. I’ve played against him and he was quick then – If he can catch a few more balls we’ll be alright! Gilly shows what he can do at centre, he’s a genius at times. Dom and Sarge have been playing really well too.
“I was frustrated with myself that I couldn’t be Man of Steel in round one, but Lammy sat me down and said he thinks I’ll hit my peak by Easter.
“I thought that’s too far away, but he’s probably bang on. I’ve been getting better each week.”