Zak Hardaker ready to make the most of Grand Final return with Wigan Warriors

Zak Hardaker is now settled at Wigan after spells with Leeds and Castleford (Image: Wigan Warriors)Sign up to FREE email alerts from MirrorRugbySubscribeWhen you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they’ll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. OurPrivacy Noticeexplains more about how we use your data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.Thank you for subscribingWe have more newslettersShow meSee ourprivacy noticeInvalid Email

Zak Hardaker has been through more extreme Grand Final emotions than any other player.

The 29-year-old has been a winner three times at Old Trafford with Leeds Rhinos, including scoring the final try in their 2011 triumph against St Helens.

But in 2017 his world fell apart around him the week of the Super League decider, when he tested positive for cocaine while at Castleford.

Stood down by his club and later suspended for 14 months, he has never been able to bring himself to watch the Tigers – who had romped to the League Leaders Shield that year – lose 24-6 to Leeds.

Now he is set to return to the sport’s showpiece event this Friday for Wigan, albeit in Hull rather than Manchester as part of a reshuffled campaign.

Wigan booked their Grand Final place by beating Hull FC on Thursday
(Image: Magi Haroun/Magipix)

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And he will draw on all of his previous experiences – good and bad – as the Warriors look to fell rivals St Helens.

Hardaker said: “I didn’t actually watch 2017. I’ve been in three Grand Finals and won three, but with the Castleford one, I didn’t bother turning it on and I’ve still not seen it to this day.

“I didn’t even have the TV on, I was in a bit of a bad place – I didn’t have rugby league in my mind whatsoever.

“Just being involved in one is fantastic. Normally you get a good build up but it’s different this year with FaceTimes and Zooms, so it’s going to be a different feel.

“But once we’re on that pitch we’ll do what we’ve been doing for the last four or five weeks.”

Hardaker won three Grand Finals with Leeds including the 2015 decider against Wigan
(Image: Clive Brunskill)

Wigan’s run of five straight wins since being dumped out of the Challenge Cup by Leeds has seen them clinch the League Leaders Shield and book a Grand Final slot with an impressive victory over Hull FC.

They face a Saints team that was even more emphatic in seeing off Catalans on Friday – but one that the Warriors beat 18-6 a month ago in one of the disrupted season’s best matches.

Hardaker added: “We feel like we’re a really well-oiled machine at the minute that’s just ticking over. If something doesn’t go our way, we’re not panicking.

“That Leeds game really fuelled us and the intensity of training lifted. That’s been shown in games and the confidence in the boys, whatever the case is, we’re confident if we stick to our structures.

“Everyone’s really turned a corner and the Saints game was big for us. I’m really confident we can go that step further and win it.”

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