New Wigan Warriors star Zak Hardaker pleased to tick another box

Zak Hardaker goes over for his first Wigan try against Salford on Sunday
Zak Hardaker goes over for his first Wigan try against Salford on Sunday

Zak Hardaker admitted he breathed a sigh of relief as he sat back and reflected on his first game in 16 months.

He marked his return from a doping ban - and his first appearance for Wigan - with a personal haul of 12-points in their 28-18 pre-season friendly win at Salford.

"I really enjoyed it, it's been a long, up and down road and I've been training really hard," said the ex-Castleford full-back.

"To get the jersey on and get 80 minutes under my belt... I was a bit nervous beforehand, so I'm really happy now.

"After the game, I sat down in the dressing room and it was just relief, a box ticked - and now I'm just looking forward to training.

"I was quite giddy on the way - I wasn't dancing or anything! - but I was really excited inside. Now I have two weeks to go back on the game and look for areas to improve and work on.

"It's still a bit rusty, because we've got a new coach, a new structure, but that's why you have pre-season friendlies - we'll review the games and look at the things we didn't do too well, and we can right the wrongs."

Hardaker was told beforehand he would play the full game, and he moved to centre in the last quarter, from where he scored a try.

He also kicked four goals from five attempts.

"I've been working on the kicking nearly every day, I enjoy pressure and it's a big responsibility," said Hardaker, who has been working with the Warriors' kicking consultant Charlie Hodgson.

"I was a bit anxious about my match-fitness - I'm up there with the leaders in training - but it's hard to replicate a game, and that side was fine, I was quite comfortable."

This was Hardaker's first game since he was suspended on the eve of the 2017 Grand Final for taking cocaine. Little surprise he had a personal fan club of family and friends at the AJ Bell Stadium to see his return.

"A few of my mates went to Kallum Watkins' testimonial game, and fair enough," he added. "But I had nine or 10 here to watch me and they were just as pleased as I was. They've supported me through the tough times and now I can hopefully take them on the good times now."