Leeds Rhinos have confirmed the re-signing of Zak Hardaker in time to take on Hull KR on Friday night.
The deal is believed to last until the end of 2022, as for beyond that it is unclear and he will make his second Leeds debut on Friday night 11 years after debuting for the Rhinos in the title winning season of 2011.
Hardaker spent five full seasons at Headingley in his first spell winning three Grand Finals and two Challenge Cups being named the Young Player of the Year in 2012 and Man of Steel in 2015 before his shock departure midway through 2016 to the Penrith Panthers before time with Castleford and Wigan.
On his return the versatile back said on the Rhinos website: “It is a strange feeling at the moment, I suppose a bit like going back to your old school. I have fond memories of my time at Leeds and the opportunity to come back this year is really special. I have spoken to Rohan Smith so we can get a feel for each other, he is arriving on the same week and it was good to understand what he is looking for. He explained his vision for what this year looks like for Leeds as a team and explained the journey he had been on in his coaching career. I am sure we are both really eager to get over and do our best for the club.
“The way I left Wigan wasn’t the way I wanted to leave the club but I would like to thank everyone there for the opportunity to play for Wigan. This started last year when I wanted to get a chance to come home back to Yorkshire with my family. I have got that opportunity thankfully with Leeds and I can’t wait to play in those Friday night games in front of a packed South Stand again. It is definitely a case of ‘you don’t realise what you’ve got until it’s gone’ and I think I let my time at the Rhinos the first time pass me by. Even as an away player it is special to play at Headingley, and I am really keen to get going as soon as possible now. In the short term I need to get to know the boys, play in as many games as I can and show what I can do for the Rhinos.
“When I left Wigan, I wasn’t thinking of any specific club to go to but just wanted to get back to Yorkshire and see what happened from there. Gary spoke to my agent and I went to meet him. He brought me up to speed with where the team is at and my focus is on playing well this year for the boys and enjoying my rugby. It is a very talented squad, albeit with injuries to key players at the moment. After our history together, I was surprised and overwhelmed when Leeds came calling and I want to make the most of this opportunity, I think it is a deal that works well for everyone concerned.”
Whilst Leeds Chief Executive Gary Hetherington explained the shock move: “We have had to move quickly to secure the services of Zak for the remainder of the season.
“Unfortunately, we have suffered injuries to our backline with Liam Sutcliffe and Tom Briscoe the latest to join that list during Friday night’s win over Toulouse. Centre and full back, in particular, are areas where we have long term injuries to Harry Newman and Jack Walker and Zak will provide experienced cover in both these positions.
“I have spoken to Zak on a number of occasions over the last few days and he spoke with Rohan Smith over the weekend. The short-term contract works for all parties in this unique situation, and I am sure Zak will be aiming to show his best form on the field now he is back in blue and amber. Credit must also go to Jamie Jones-Buchanan who was open to welcoming his former team mate back into our environment.”