Joy behind Hardaker's NRL breakthrough
It was worth the same number of points as any of the 67 tries he scored in the English Super League but Zak Hardaker said his joy at scoring his maiden try in the NRL was the realisation of the hours of training to put him at that exact point.
Hardaker was forced to sit on the interchange bench and watch for the entire 80 minutes of last week's win over the Eels but was thrust into the action after 27 minutes against the Broncos after right centre Waqa Blake suffered a concussion.
It's not a position he is overly familiar with but when the Panthers shifted right in the final minute of the first half through Bryce Cartwright and Matt Moylan, Hardaker was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to slice through and score his first four-pointer in the NRL.
In addition to contributing to the dominant 31-12 win the reigning Man of Steel said it was a celebration of the work he has put in over the past month in order to get up to speed with the NRL and Penrith's game plan.
"I was a bit excited that I scored and didn't quite know what to do," Hardaker told NRL.com.
"Being the utility player sat on the bench you've got to be prepared to come on at any position if need be. Waqa unfortunately got injured and I got on at right centre – usually I play on the left – but it doesn't really matter to me where I play.
"You've got to understand where we're going and what we're doing and what we're trying to achieve as a team. I knew what was happening on the end there, 'Moyza' (Moylan) held his bloke up quite well and I just hit a hole, fended off a player and fortunately for me it was just right over the line."
As he didn't get on the field last week Friday night was technically just Hardaker's third game in the NRL having only arrived in Australia at the end of June on a short-term release from Leeds.
Coach Anthony Griffin conceded that his star import had struggled initially with the demands of the NRL but that his 53-minute performance against the Broncos will put him in good stead for the remainder of the season.
"It was unfortunate for Waqa but it was great that he got out there and was able to contribute," Griffin said.
"By his own admission he's probably found the level a bit of a shock once he's got out here and he's still getting used to the physicality and the speed of it so it was great for a team point of view to be able to get him out there in a game like that tonight for 60 minutes and let him contribute.
"He'll be better for that."
Panthers teammate Trent Merrin is full of admiration for how Hardaker has applied himself since arriving at Penrith and is excited by what is potentially to come from the England international over the final six weeks of the season.
"It's always hard to do what he's done, coming in mid-season, away from his family in England and jump straight into a team," Merrin told NRL.com.
"He's been working really well and really hard at training and every week he's been getting better and better.
"It was great to see him cross the line for his first try in the Panthers colours and he's going to be great for us.
"He's chipping away every week and working really hard on what he needs to work on."
Given his versatility in the outside backs and Matt Moylan's ability to switch between fullback and the halves the addition of Hardaker gives Griffin a great deal of flexibility in the 17 he can turn out each week.
For Hardaker, it's a matter of being ready for whatever the NRL happens to throw at him.
"The first couple of weeks with the jetlag and that I was finding it a bit overwhelming but now I'm settled in real well," said the 24-year-old.
"All the boys are looking after me and I'm trying to find my position in the centres and finding my feet in it.
"As soon as I come off the plane three weeks ago I was thrown into a tough training session and for me, not getting a pre-season [with the Panthers], I need to try and understand what players do what especially game plan-wise.
"We had a good week's prep this week and I knew what my role would be if I went into the centres, I know what to do if I went on the wing and I know what to do if I was at fullback.
"Going from fullback half of the year straight into the NRL into the centres, that's quite a step up.
"Sometimes it's quite fast-paced but I like that. I'd say I'm quite a fit bloke and I'm very versatile when it comes to positions.
"To come over to the NRL and gain some valuable experience and get some games is foremost good for me but to score a try is always good as well."