FORMER MAN of Steel Zak Hardaker’s move away from Leeds Rhinos is expected to be completed next week.
Hardaker – the England full-back in last year’s Test series win over New Zealand – was placed on the transfer list in the summer before a spell on loan at Australian club Penrith Panthers.
The 25-year-old joined Leeds from Featherstone Rovers ahead of the 2011 season and was Man of Steel – the European game’s top individual accolade – last year, when he played a key role in Rhinos’ treble triumph.
But his time at Headingley has been marred by off-field issues, Rhinos seem to have lost patience with one of their star players and a parting of the ways appears inevitable.
Preparations for 2017 will step up next week when clubs, including Rhinos, begin pre-season training, but it is unlikely Hardaker will be among the players reporting in.
Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “Zak is still a contracted Leeds Rhinos player.
“If nothing at all was to happen, he would come back to training, but from the day he went on the transfer list the clear intent was for 2017 he would be with another club.
“For 2016 we recognised it would be difficult for anybody to come and take a player and he would remain with Leeds Rhinos.
“As it happened, the arrangement with Penrith came off, but the clear intent for 2017 was that Zak would be furthering his career with another club.
“That is still the intent. For that to happen a club has got to agree transfer terms with Leeds Rhinos.
“The interest has heightened in the last week or so and all the signs are Zak is fairly close to securing a move to another club.
“That’s what we anticipate, but until it is confirmed and completed there’s nothing to report in that regard.”
Hetherington confirmed: “We are expecting further developments over the course of the weekend.
“There is interest in Zak and he is interested in going to those clubs.
“It is likely by the end of next week an arrangement will be put in place.”
Huddersfield Giants are understood to be leading the chase. Castleford Tigers were also linked with Hardaker, but are believed to have been out-bid and say their squad for next year is now complete.
Hetherington refused to comment on which clubs are in the running, but he said: “Zak has made it known his preference is to play in Super League.
“The interest is from Super League clubs.”
Pre-season for Rhinos is set to begin on Wednesday with the majority of the squad – other than England players Ryan Hall, Kallum Watkins and Stevie Ward and imports James Segeyaro and Joel Moon, who are all due back after Christmas – expected to have a three-month build-up to the new campaign.
Hetherington said: “I don’t think we’ve ever had such a long pre-season before. It is a big bonus.”