With the announcement that Zak Hardaker is due to spend the rest of 2022 back at Leeds Rhinos, Leeds have a way of ameliorating their injury crisis.
Before last week’s win against Hull KR, Leeds were down to their last 19 players with injuries to Tom Briscoe and Liam Sutcliffe making matters worse going into the game. So, Hardaker’s arrival was a needs must even if he did miss out on his first game due to a seizure. Nonetheless, his presence in the squad for Leeds’ game against Salford next week will make Rohan Smith’s first team selection as Head Coach much easier.
But with a player of his quality due to remain at the club for the remainder of the season, the Rhinos will be considering how their team will look when they get all their players back into the mix. So, here’s three ways Leeds could include Hardaker in their first-choice line-up.
1 Hardaker, Fusitu’a, Newman, Sutcliffe, Handley, Austin, Sezer
In the eyes of many, Zak Hardaker has always played his best rugby at fullback. But the role of Bevan French and now Jai Field at Wigan has seen him forced to play centre. But Leeds know first hand how good he can be at one after all he won the Man of Steel at Leeds as a fullback in 2015 and the Young Player of the Year in 2012. So, the most obvious way of including him in Leeds’ long-term side is at fullback but this would be harsh on Richie Myler who is soon due back from injury whilst Jack Walker will be fit before the end of the season. Two great fullbacks themselves, Myler has arguably been Leeds’ biggest loss in 2022 in terms of injuries, would the Rhinos want to drop them both?
2 Hardaker, Fusitu’a, Newman, Sutcliffe, Handley, Austin, Myler
Of course, there is a way of including both Hardaker and Myler in the same team. Leeds’ halfbacks have struggled to click this season and Aidan Sezer has been struck by injury recently. This could prompt new boss Rohan Smith to consider playing Richie Myler in the halves where he first made his name to include Hardaker at fullback.
3 Myler, Fusitu’a, Newman, Hardaker, Handley, Austin, Sezer
Of course, should Leeds settle on Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer in the halves and Richie Myler at fullback, we could see Hardaker play centre. Hardaker won a Grand Final there with Leeds in 2011 even scoring a hat-trick on the road to Old Trafford. He’s also played a lot of rugby there for Wigan. So, he may be an option Leeds use at centre especially with Harry Newman plagued by injury. It may not be a bad decision on behalf of the Rhinos to use him at centre.