Ahead of his second debut for Leeds this weekend, Zak Hardaker says that re-joining the Rhinos and leaving Wigan has saved his relationship.
Other than a brief spell in the NRL with Penrith Panthers, Pontefract-born Hardaker hadn’t moved outside of Yorkshire in his playing career until linking up with the Warriors in 2019.
After three years, his time at the DW Stadium came to an end last month. Having signed back at Leeds – where he previously won three Grand Finals – the full-back or centre is in line to start this weekend’s trip to Salford Red Devils.
Zak Hardaker: Family comes first
Speaking ahead of that game, he opened up on the struggles he’d faced during his time with the Cherry and Whites.
“I wanted to leave last year and asked for a transfer request,” Hardaker said. “I was living in Wigan on my own with a young family in Yorkshire. It took a bearing on my relationship.
“The most important thing for me now, especially coming to the ripe old age of 30, is my family. They come first.
“I tried to get home as much as possible but we were finishing training at 3pm and if anyone knows the M62 corridor, it’s an absolute nightmare. Sometimes I was getting home about 8pm and by that time, my son Abel was already in bed.
“I was getting up for training the next morning at 5am and he gets up about 7am so I was missing him altogether which I was peeved off with.
“I’ve had all the conversations of a partner or a husband not being at home. It was just really getting to me.”
Despite requesting the move away last year, Hardaker was instructed he’d have to see out the remainder of his contract.
He was only dropped by Wigan for their Good Friday meeting with St Helens having played a part in most of the games prior this year.
Home is where the heart is
The former Featherstone man added: “I lived in Wigan for six months to show that I did want to be there. I thought it (the situation) would change a little, but it didn’t.
“My partner (Elisha) is due again (with a second child) in about 10 weeks. The idea behind it was that I was always going to move back to Yorkshire at around this time anyway.
“I can’t have her raising two kids – especially my two – at home on her own with me being in Wigan. I didn’t want to be that kind of parent either.
“I’ve moved back into my house and put all my own clothes back into my own drawers now. It just feels really good to be home.”
On the field, Hardaker’s job now will be to help Leeds get back up into the top six. A sluggish start to the Super League season has left the Rhinos five points off the pace. As it stands, they sit ninth.