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Zak Hardaker explains why he had to leave Wigan Warriors and take up Leeds Rhinos move

By David Craven

As he prepares to make his ‘second’ debut for Leeds Rhinos, Zak Hardaker says he had to come "home" for the sake of his family. The England international, 30, hopes to feature for Leeds at Salford Red Devils on Sunday after a traumatic few weeks.

Dropped by Wigan, he was then allowed to leave and, just over a fortnight ago, re-signed with Rhinos where he enjoyed such success before leaving for the NRL in 2016. However, the day after his signing was announced, Hardaker collapsed and suffered a suspected seizure while out walking with his young son Abel near their family home.

He was aided by an off-duty paramedic and taken to hospital before undergoing a series of tests. That meant his planned first game back against Hull KR didn’t happen but, thankfully, he is ticking all the boxes ahead of Sunday’s contest.

Read more: Gold Coast Titans forward offered to Super League clubs

And Pontefract-born Hardaker today gave more detail about why he felt he needed to leave Wigan, where he had played since 2019 and was under contract until the end of the year. His partner is expecting their second child and the ex-Castleford full-back said: “Home can be wherever your family is, really.

“My partner and my little boy did live in Wigan for a little bit and we were OK. But it didn’t end up the way we wanted it to end up; we have been living at my mum’s house for the last four, five months of last year.

“When the conversation came about we were going to have to move back, it was too much of a burden to pick up and move back to Wigan again for one more year. I was looking at moving back to Yorkshire at the end of this year anyway.

“She was comfortable with all the family members bobbing round the house. My job was in Wigan so it was a bit tougher for me. My family is really happy back home. I’ve been home for a few weeks and I’m really happy.

“Just to see my boy every morning and every night. That’s all I’ve wanted for the last few months. I am really happy with that. It helps me come to training with a smile on my face and hopefully that can impact me on the pitch as well.”

Asked if he had to return to Yorkshire to keep his family together, Hardaker said: “Yes, pretty much.

“Pre-season was tough anyway. I tried to get home as much as possible, train until three but if anybody knows the MC62 it's an absolute nightmare. Sometimes I was getting home at eight o'clock and my son was already in bed.

“I was getting up for training the next morning at five 'clock so I was missing him altogether. It was really getting to me. I thought it would change a little but it really didn't and my partner is due again in 10 weeks. I couldn't leave her with two kids on her own in Yorkshire and me being in Wigan. I didn't want to be that kind of parent.

“It was always going to be like that, it just materialised a little bit different to how I imagined. And it feels really good to be back home.”

Meanwhile, he says he will be forever grateful to the paramedic who came to his aid. “I think I'd have to go to her house every week with flowers for the rest of the year to show my gratitude,” said Hardaker.

“Because I don't think I can put into words how grateful I am. Just for my son, for someone to be there when it happened, I’m just grateful for that.

“I'm okay but it could have been a different matter if no one was there and my son got off his tricycle and toddled off somewhere. I would have found that hard to deal with. She’s called Rosie and she’s a lovely lady. She only lives two minutes away and has checked up on me since. I'll see if she wants here garden doing!”

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