What now for Hardaker and Wigan?

This week has seen Castleford Tigers pull the plug on full back Zak Hardaker’s stay with the club following his drugs suspension last October and, as expected, rumours and speculation has been flying around about the future of the former England flyer. While the club and sport are still waiting for the result from the UKAD investigation into Hardaker’s case, Wigan’s Shaun Wane has been talking openly about interest in the player and, depending on the length of a likely ban, it appears that a possible move to the Warriors in the future isn’t a wayward suggestion.

Speaking of the player who started his career at Featherstone, Wane said “Zak is a fantastic player and any player of his calibre that comes up we’d be interested in” and, while explaining that the likes of Kris Radlinski and Ian Lenagan are in charge of such matters, the head coach went on to outline his belief that Hardaker, despite his misgivings off the pitch, is a “fantastic character” and someone he would love to have at the club. With a two year ban probable, Hardaker would be eligible to feature again – if backdated – as of September 2019 – which would see him, if at Wigan, facing strong competition for a starting spot.

At the moment, former NRL and local boy Sam Tomkins and Frenchman Morgan Escare are currently sharing the role with the latter coming off the bench in each league match so far this campaign such is the desire from the club to ensure both players are happy with playing time. In addition to that, youngster Craig Mullen impressed to such an extent both on and off the field on the club’s recent trip Down Under that he – a full back by trade – is reportedly pushing for first team consideration on a regular basis. As a club that prides itself on promoting young talent, it would be rather strange to see yet another experienced full back come to the club and, thus, potentially stifle the progress of Mullen.

After starring for the club’s academy team last season on 17 occasions – 14 of which at full back – Mullen featured as a centre last weekend against South Sydney Rabbitohs and, with the paucity of centre options available to Wane this weekend, he is a contender to start at right centre against Warrington tonight. Both his coach and full back teammate Sam Tomkins have spoken highly of the youngster’s potential with the latter explaining how impressed he was with the 20 year old in pre season training.

Shaun Wane, unsurprisingly such is Wigan’s standing in the game, has got a plethora of top quality options available across the park and having Mullen as a contender for a starting jersey will no doubt be of benefit to the club over the long season. Mullen himself will be hoping that, when Tomkins eventually moves on, he will be in a position to take up the mantle vacated in the number 1 jersey. If the club, however, do pursue Hardaker, this will make life increasingly difficult for the youngster – as, if the recently sacked Tiger doesn’t change his ways, it would for the club.

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