Leeds Rhinos’ Zak Hardaker focusses on the positives despite opening night loss

Leeds Rhinos' Zak Hardaker. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Leeds Rhinos' Zak Hardaker. Picture: Tony Johnson.
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MAN OF Steel Zak Hardaker admits he will reproach himself over the missed kick that denied Leeds Rhinos a draw against Warrington Wolves – but he won’t entertain ideas of giving up the role.

The England full-back was left helpless as his badly-hooked penalty in the 76th minute dribbled wide of the posts with their visitors leading 12-10 on Thursday night.

There was no further score and, therefore, it meant the champions began the defence of their Super League title with a loss, quickly raising question marks about Hardaker’s proficiency with the boot.

He has taken on the unenviable role of attempting to replace Kevin Sinfield, the prolific former Leeds captain who kicked a staggering 1,776 goals for the club over 19 years, before switching codes over to Yorkshire Carnegie last autumn.

Talking to The Yorkshire Post after Thursday night’s loss, Hardaker maintained he was happy to take the relatively simple 30m shot.

“I wanted it and I am pretty disappointed with that,” he said.

“I’m (normally) really upbeat about my kicking but it’s something I said I was working on and obviously I’ll have to continue working on it.

“I am disappointed about that but more about us losing as we could have won it with a few things going our way.”

Hardaker, 24, looked like he wanted the pitch to swallow him up whole as his attempt skewed terribly.

“I didn’t strike it well at all,” he conceded, having also missed the conversion attempt of Ryan Hall’s second-half try.

“That’s what bugs me most; I can strike the ball really well and I reckon if I strike like I can that would sail through.

“But I didn’t hit it well at all.

“I’ll probably beat myself up about it over the weeknd and then, come Monday, we’ve a long week into Widnes and we’ve positives we can take into that next week.”

For a season opener, it proved an absorbing encounter between two sides who never let up physically.

“It was a tough fixture but we always expected that,” added Hardaker.

“We knew Warrington would turn up like that and I’d hope they knew we would too.

“As disappointing as it was, it was just a bit of a game of fine margins.

“A couple of passes like the one to Sutty (Liam Sutcliffe) in the first half; if that had stuck we’d have gone 6-0 up.

“Or four depending on my kicking...

“That was a good test for us with new people in the side and new things in place.

“It was just a shame we’ve lost but the boys gave 110 per cent.

“I’m probably the worst when we get defeats, but on the positive side we got some good things out of that game.”

Leeds weren’t aided by some significant disruptions to their side, not least losing new captain Danny McGuire to a knee problem after just 31 minutes and already being without Australian hooker Beau Falloon due to a training ground injury.

“It was difficult and then Sutty picked up a bit of a niggle first half, too, so he wasn’t 100 per cent for all the game,” revealed Hardaker, as Leeds, who face NRL champions North Queensland Cowboys in the World Club Challenge later this month, began looking almost immediately to their game at Widnes tomorrow week.

“But then we have got the strength in depth and the cohesion together that we know works for us. It’s just those fine margins we missed out on and we just came up short.”

McGuire will be sidelined for around two months with his knee injury. He limped off and left the ground with his knee in a brace.

The 33-year-old half-back went for scans yesterday and put on a brave face as he posted the outcome on his Twitter account.

“Thanks for all the messages last night decent news back from scan so hopefully only miss a couple of months,” McGuire said.

“Was so proud to lead the lads out but back down to earth with a bang but that’s our sport and why we love it. Just work hard and get back asap!”