Zak Hardaker on yelling at team-mates, goal kicking... and why Wigan Warriors are only '6/10'
Wigan's in-form Zak Hardaker spoke to the media this week about much more than the England full-back role...
On getting engaged recently
It’s been in the pipeline since January, I got the ring then but we were in lockdown.
I spoke to her parents and did it the traditional way – well, it was more of a ‘And if you say ‘no’ I’m still going to ask her!’ – so they knew.
We had a nice weekend and it seemed the perfect time to pop the question.
I got a bib for my little boy, and on the front it said, ‘Mummy will you marry daddy?’
She knows my Playstation is a no-go zone so I hid all the stuff under there, I got them out... she saw the message and I went down on one knee.
We’ve been together nearly 13 years so it was probably about time.
I’m in such a happy place at the moment, my baby boy is terrific, I’m enjoying training, playing well, and the engagement is the icing on the cake.
Settling in at Wigan
I put pressure on myself in the first year to the best player in the competition, and I didn’t realise how much a year out of the game had on me.
I played alright but I wanted to do better than I did. Second year, played centre, still enjoyed it and I felt I was progressing at the back end of last season.
But there were things me and Lammy wanted to put in place – build up some muscle, get quicker – and it seems to be working, and being back at full-back is second nature to me. I find it
I’m not saying that in an arrogant way, but the positioning, bossing players around the field, it’s second nature.
Wigan’s unbeaten start to the season
Our first game against Leigh was a tough game, we started pretty poor. Wakefield, York, Leeds – we started pretty poor in them all. So structurally we’re sound, we’ve not had many tries scored against us.
We’re probably at a 6/10, and all the boys know that. We’re not worried. Some players are just giving away silly penalties and they know who they are – I make sure they know in a game – and it’s early doors, we’re building.
We’re at 92 per cent completion with the ball in hand, which is top level, but our penalties have let us down.
So it’s all positive from our end, they’re easy fixes. Hull FC, opponents in their next two games
They’ve been brilliant, they’ve been a great team for a few years and they’ve said it themselves, they’re just a bit inconsistent at times.
It’ll be a tough game on Thursday and then we have them the week after (in the Challenge Cup), so it’ll be good to see where we’re at.
Their form has been better than us, but we’ve got a couple of notches to go and it should be an interesting game, it should be fun to watch.
Personal duel with FC's Jake Connor tonight
For me it’s personal. If Jake Connor scores two tries and gets man of the match, I feel I’ve not done my job.
Obviously I can’t man-mark him because I’m a full-back, but it’s my duty to outplay my fellow player, especially if he’s being mentioned as a contender for the England role.
So I’m taking it personal, I’m sure he is, I know what kind of player and character he is.
Being a ‘voice’ on the field... and upsetting team-mates!
The only person I upset sometimes is Jacko (Jackson Hastings). We’re both ultra-competitive.
I’ll give you an example, against Leeds, I missed two goals from the sidelines and after the chip over the top (for French’s try) he shouts over, ‘Zak if you miss again, I’m kicking’.
I said, ‘No you’re not’, so we had a bit of an argument on the field!
But that’s Jacko not wanting to lose the game. The boys know if I say something, I may shout or swear... for instance, I hope he doesn’t mind me saying, I shouted at Ethan Havard for giving two penalties away against Cas’.
But then after the game I gave him a cuddle and said, ‘Mate it’s not personal, I want to win, I want us to improve – if I shout at you to get back onside it’s not because I don’t like you’.
Being stronger and faster
I do feel quicker. I had my hair transplant after Christmas and I wasn’t allowed to do any exercise, I came into pre-season quite skinny and Oliver Gildart nicknamed me the greyhound. So I spoke to the nutritionist and the S&C guy and it was about me getting the weight on. I trained hard in pre-season – I’m not a massive gym enthusiast – and I was eating steak out the frying pan to put weight on, and I’m getting the reward.
I’ve been working hard on it, but we keep scoring tries on the sidelines!
I’m not a Marc Sneyd who’s been kicking for 10 years – I’ve been doing it for two and a bit years at Wigan, and I only got the job because I was the best of a bad bunch.
But it’s something I’ve tried to improve, it’s something I don’t neglect.