LEEDS RHINOS’ chief executive Gary Hetherington last night maintained Zak Hardaker’s £300,000 price tag “is more than realistic” given the fee received for England rival Sam Tomkins.
Man of Steel Hardaker has been placed on the transfer list at his own request citing a desire to try his hand in the NRL.
He has drawn plenty of interest from Australian clubs but, for all the full-back’s undoubted talents, some people find it hard to believe any would produce such a significant outlay.
Asked if he thinks they will secure the sum, Hetherington told The Yorkshire Post: “Ultimately, we’ll take the best offer. It’s always difficult nowadays as there are not that many transfers that occur with players being out of contract.
“The last big one was Sam Tomkins who went for 750k (from Wigan to New Zealand Warriors in 2013).
“I think Zak himself would see himself as a fair comparison of Tomkins in that regard; he’s an England player, the reigning Man of Steel, still only 24 and has already achieved so much.
“So, I think it’s more than realistic given it’s less than half what Tomkins left for.”
Hardaker successfully replaced the injured Tomkins –who returned to Wigan recently after a mixed two years at Auckland – during England’s Test series win over the Kiwis last autumn and it is hard to fault Hetherington’s argument.
Nevertheless, no one has made a firm offer yet despite Canberra Raiders, Gold Coast Titans and Newcastle Knights being linked.
“It’s early days,” insisted the chief executive, who said Hardaker could leave immediately if a deal is brokered.
“I expect this to create some interest, but it will be of a confidential nature. It could be an immediate deal; if someone comes in with the money he could leave tomorrow.
“If the offer is acceptable and the clubs agree it could be imminent or something agreed for next season as clubs here and in Australia are obviously governed by the salary cap.
“I’d imagine most are pretty poor regards money available now, but next season might be more of a possibility. We’re open to any suggestions.”
Hardaker, under contract at the West Yorkshire club until 2019, has enjoyed a brilliant career since Leeds paid Featherstone Rovers £70,000 for him as a teenager in late 2010.
Granted, there has been controversy along the way with a series of disciplinary problems but he has won three Super League titles, two Challenge Cups and a World Club Challenge.
When captain Kevin Sinfield left and Jamie Peacock retired after last season’s treble-win, Hardaker was also given a more involved leadership role.
Hetherington, therefore, admits it is “disappointing” that this point has been reached.
“It is always disappointing when it’s one of your prominent players in the group, it comes to the end of the road and it’s time to say goodbye but that’s where we’re at,” he said.
“Zak’s given us five great years. That’s been interspersed with a variety of incidents and issues – it’s not always been plain sailing – but he’s always been totally committed on the field.
“We signed him after, I think, just 11 professional appearances in the Championship with Featherstone. We recognised his potential and he more than fulfilled what we expected.”
Leeds, of course, are slumped at the bottom of Super League but Hetherington is not worried other players will seek moves.
“That’s not a concern; Zak’s situation is completely unique and it’s in the best interests of both parties,” he said.
Leeds youngster Ashton Golding, 19, is seen as Hardaker’s natural replacement while the club is linked once more with Wests Tigers’ former Australia hooker Robbie Farah for 2017.
Rhinos’ current hooker Beau Falloon and forward Mitch Achurch are the only players out of contract next season.