Dave Craven: Here’s hoping Zak Hardaker can make his mark Down Under

Zak Hardaker could attract interest from other clubs if he impresses during 10-week trial at Penrith
Zak Hardaker could attract interest from other clubs if he impresses during 10-week trial at Penrith
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I, for one, hope Zak Hardaker never returns to Super League.

Now, that definitely is not written with any sort of malice or contempt.

It is simply borne out of the fact that, if the Leeds Rhinos star does not head back here, it probably means he has been a success in Australia.

Unlike some, I would actually like to see the reigning ‘Man of Steel’ prosper in the NRL.

One of the reasons for that stance is, given the recent past record of English backs who have tried the same move, I feel it would be a real positive for the sport if Hardaker did, indeed, shine.

For all the likes of classy forwards such as Adrian Morley, James Graham and Sam Burgess have ventured Down Under during the summer era and commanded utter respect from their gnarled Australian peers, the same cannot be said of so many backline exports.

The biggest disappointment yet was seeing full-back Sam Tomkins decide last year – after barely 18 months with New Zealand Warriors following a world-record transfer – that he wanted to return home to Wigan having never produced the sort of magic the sport here knows he can.

But there are others, too, with Wigan colleague Joe Burgess following suit only last week, the England winger announcing he will be rejoining the Warriors after just one campaign with Sydney Roosters.

He has just been loaned out to South Sydney for the remainder of the season.

Former Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR full-back Greg Eden is on his way back, too, from Brisbane Broncos to Castleford Tigers for 2017, having played only a handful of first-grade games.

Before that, there were the likes of former Leeds full-back Richie Mathers (Gold Coast Titans) and ex-Huddersfield half-back Chris Thorman (Parramatta Eels) who fared okay but never left a lasting impression on the NRL game.

Yes, there are quality English backs operating there in Broncos centre Jack Reed and St George Illawarra stand-off Gareth Widdop but both those internationals came through the academy system in Australia and have never played Super League.

Perhaps it illustrates the deficiencies at international level where, for years, England have possessed a pack of genuine quality but never truly had the flair and creativity behind it to secure tournament or series successes against Australia that their endeavours deserved.

However, Hardaker, for all his past failings off the pitch, offers hope of proving England has more to offer than a bunch of marauding forwards.

He will link-up with Penrith Panthers next week in what is, to all intents and purposes, a 10-week trial with the Sydney club.

They have taken the transfer-listed full-back on board until the end of the season and, if he impresses sufficiently, they could sign the 24-year-old on a permanent deal.

It works both ways, however; if Hardaker delivers when gaining an opportunity – and he could debut as soon as next Saturday against Wests Tigers – then it will surely pique interest from other NRL clubs, too.

It is understood plenty did show an interest when, at his own request, the player was put up for sale.

However, understandably perhaps, some, if not all, may have been deterred by the £300,000 transfer fee placed on his head.

That is a considerable investment even for some of the wealthier NRL outfits.

But Hardaker has three months now, longer if the Panthers make the play-offs, to prove not only to Penrith, but everyone else as well, that he is worth such an outlay.

If it does not work out, I am sure Leeds would welcome him back for the remaining three years of his contract at Headingley. But I hope he does the business.