Zak Hardaker talks Toronto, tough-love... and settling into the centre role
Zak Hardaker believes hard task-master Brian McDermott is the perfect man to make Toronto Wolfpack into a Super League force.
The Wigan centre knows all about the Wolfpack boss, having spent six years under his control at Leeds.
Hardaker credits the ex-Royal Marine for helping him on the pitch, as well as off it - and says he was an intimidating force when he stepped out of line as a youngster!
“If you messed up at the weekend – as I did on a few occasions – those texts saying, ‘I want you in my office at 8.30am tomorrow’ were very nerve-racking,” said Hardaker, ahead of tonight’s reunion with his old mentor. “The anxiety would go through the roof on a Sunday!
“But even after a poor game, you’d know you were going to get it, and I love that.
“Different coaches have different methods and I like the straight down the line approach – ‘This is what I want and if you don’t achieve that, you can expect to be dropped or get a mouthful in front of 30 blokes’.
“He’ll tell you straight. He puts his standards out there."
Hardaker is set to continue in the right centre spot, a move which allows Adrian Lam to put Bevan French at full-back.
And while many are excited about seeing French handed a key role, many also believe Hardaker isn’t as effective at centre as he is at full-back, a position from where he once won the Man of Steel and was last year named Wigan’s Player of the Season.
Lam disagrees, saying he believes the 28-year-old’s physical attributes can make him an even better centre than he is a full-back.
And Hardaker is confident he will grow into the position – and admits there is one benefit to his new role.
“Defence,” he smiled. “I prefer defending at centre.
“I’m a bit aggressive anyway and I really enjoy tackling.
“Sometimes when I played full-back, we’d kick to the corner and I’d stay in the line just to make two or three tackles, because I really enjoy that area of the game.
“I’m growing into it, it’s trying to find more ball but I realise for the first seven or eight weeks it’s windy and cold and boggy – we’re not going to be a team that whip it around all the time. I’m getting into the flow of it and I’m feeling more comfortable with it. The crispy bit will come in a few weeks as the sun comes out and the ground firms up.
“As it stands, I’m happy to be playing my part.”
“Flip side, I’ve had a few times when he’s rewarded us for a good win and given us the weekend off – he’s not as stern as you may think he is. He’s got a good side to him!
“Brian really got me, in the game and away from it. He developed me on and off the pitch, and I rate him highly as a coach.
“When he got the Toronto job he was probably what they need.”
Hardaker has watched Toronto’s first two Super League games and has seen McDermott’s fingerprints all over their style of play.
“There are similarities to when I was at Leeds,” said the 28-year-old. “They like to shift it early and it’s a challenge for our edge, especially with Ricky Leutele on my side, which I’m looking forward to.”