Zak Hardaker spoke in length to the media following his long-awaited return to action.
Hardaker scored a try and kicked four goals to help Wigan Warriors beat Salford Red Devils 28-18 in a pre-season trial game at the AJ Bell Stadium on Sunday.
The England international’s last game of professional rugby league came on September 28, 2017. He helped Castleford Tigers reach the Super League Grand Final as they beat St Helens 23-22 in golden-point extra-time.
He was dropped ahead of the final after being found guilty of taking cocaine. Hardaker then left Castleford and signed a four-year deal with Wigan.
While training with Wigan but still banned, Hardaker received a drink-driving charge and went into a rehabilitation programme with Sporting Chance.
And on Sunday, Hardaker scored a try and took over kicking duties as the Warriors beat the Red Devils.
The full transcript of his post-match press conference with the press is below:
Zak, how did you find your first game back?
“It’s been a long and up and down road to get to where I am today, but I’ve been training really hard since I came to Wigan. My family and friends were watching and the support from the Wigan fans was really good and I’m really happy. I was nervous and apprehensive before the game about certain stuff, but that’s all been put to me bed and I’m really happy.”
Did you know that you were going to play 80 minutes?
“It said on the board before the game that I was going to play the full game. I was happy to get 80 minutes under my belt and I enjoyed going into centre as well. To get back playing and for Wigan was good for myself.”
Did you struggle playing the full 80 minutes after not playing for so long?
“That’s what I was nervous about before the game. I’m quite fit anyway but you can’t replicate a game and I was a bit nervous before the game, but I was fine. I didn’t know exactly how far I ran but I was good, I recovered quite quickly.”
Was this game a box-ticked for you?
“This game was definitely a box-ticker. I was happy just to get out there and get back to playing rugby. I was quite giddy on the bus on the way to the ground because I was excited to play. It’s a box-ticked and I’ve got a few weeks now to look back on my game and try and improve before the start of the season. Hopefully I will play against Saints in the opening game of the season.”
How did you find your communication with the rest of the team?
“It’s still a bit rusty, I’m not going to lie. I’m still getting used to new moves and new names for them all but that was always going to be the case. Our penalties were soft, but we have got two weeks to improve our game now and hopefully put some of them wrongs, right.”
You seemed comfortable with the kicking duties…
“I enjoy pressure and took over the kicking duties, which is a big responsibility, but I enjoyed that. I missed one, but I thought I kicked well, and I’m really pleased with the with the way I was striking the ball. Charlie Hodgson [former England rugby union kicker] has been helping us with kicking practice over the last couple of weeks and we’ve got him one or two times before the Saints game. He has helped me and about six other lads.”
How many of your family and friends watched on?
“Normally it is bigger but because Kallum Watkins has got a testimonial game on, some of my mates went to watch that which I was gutted about! I had my mum and my girlfriend and about nine or 10 at the game, and I think they are just as pleased for me as I am. They’ve supported me through all the tough times so hopefully I can take them to the good times now. I was really pleased they came and supported me.”
Have you circled the World Club Challenge in your diary?
“I’ve not thought about it. I only thought about today’s game and I’ve ticked that off. I’ll work on things I can improve on in training and hopefully I will get a starting spot for Saints. Morgan [Escare] came on today [at full-back] and played really well, so I don’t know what Adrian is going to do with the team. All I can do is train hard, and hopefully I will play in the Saints game and then after that, I’ll work towards the World Club Challenge.”
Is there a sigh of relief for you now?
“I sat down after the game and just thought ‘box ticked’. I didn’t do anything wrong and I got 80 minutes under my belt so it’s all positive news. I like to have a nice sleep after a game, but I’m actually looking forward to the next training session and the recovery side of things.”
Have the club been supportive of you over the last couple of months?
“They’ve been really good, but I’ve been in a really positive mood myself, but they are the first ones to know if I’m not. I’ve got a really good dialogue with the coaching staff and Kris Radlinski texts me daily, so we’ve got a good connection. We are all a tight bunch and we’ve said that if there’s any problems, whatever it is, we’d sort it out internally. I’m in a really good place at the moment, so the training and playing is comfortable for me.”
? Four goals and a try for this guy today.
— Wigan Warriors ?⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) January 20, 2019