Lions trip will be no holiday for in-form Warriors ace

A "squeaky clean" Zak Hardaker was happy to cancel plans for a holiday in Cape Verde for the chance to resurrect his international career.

Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 4:50 pm
Zak Hardaker

The Wigan full-back was convinced his chequered past was well behind him but he still had no reason to anticipate a call-up for the Great Britain tour, having been ignored for the squad sessions all year.

So Hardaker had a flashback to the bad old days when he saw a call coming in from former England captain Jamie Peacock, informing him he was under consideration for the Lions tour and urging him to keep the dates free.

"That was a massive surprise," said Hardaker. "I saw Jamie's name come up and I thought 'what have I done wrong?'

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"That's what is normally the case when I get a phone call off a senior head of rugby league.

"He was ringing to give me a heads-up, saying don't book a holiday. I wasn't far off either, I think I was going to Cape Verde with my girlfriend Elisha."

Hardaker, who turns 28 on Thursday, got another call from Peacock, the Great Britain team manager, on Sunday confirming his selection in a 24-man squad for Test matches against Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

As he gathered at a Manchester hotel on Tuesday with the squad's Wigan, Salford and St Helens contingent to collect their Great Britain kit ahead of Wednesday's flight to Sydney, he was able to reflect on a remarkable story of redemption.

Hardaker reached the height of his profession when was crowned Man of Steel in 2015 but his career quickly went into free-fall.

Released by Leeds following a string of indiscretions, he looked to have got his life back on track when he helped Castleford reach a maiden Grand Final in 2017 but he was suspended in the run-up to the game after testing positive for cocaine.

After serving a 14-month ban which ruled him out of the 2017 World Cup, Hardaker was handed a lifeline by Wigan only to be arrested for drink-driving before he had even played a match.

However, his new club stood by him after he agreed to go through rehab and, after a superb season, he scooped the major awards at the end-of-year presentation night on Monday.

"This tops off a really magnificent year for me, on and off the pitch," Hardaker said. "I got a few awards from Wigan last night which I didn't expect. This is a massive added bonus."

Hardaker spoke at length at the start of the season of his intention to make the most of what was widely perceived to be his last chance in the game and he is proud of the way he has turned his life around.

"I've had a full season under my belt and I'm squeaky clean," he said. "Hopefully that's a great sign and hopefully the next four weeks will be an even bigger chance for me to show people.

"It's not as easy as just switching a light on, saying 'be this different person' because it's really difficult.

"I've been that person since I've been born and in the last 10 years I've just gone about my business.

"I've not tried to cause anyone any harm, I've probably just done myself harm.

"To go away from something that I've been used to day in, day out for years, to flip it on its head, there's been challenges but it's something I've really enjoyed.

"I've reaped the benefits from my relationship with my girlfriend and my mum and step-dad have been really proud of me."