WHERE once Leeds Rhinos always expected to win, the confidence-drained champions now enter games envisaging every one being “hard” according to their England full-back Zak Hardaker.
They visit Salford Red Devils tonight having lost seven of their opening nine matches and proving a pale shadow of the ruthless side that swept to the treble just a few months ago.
Even Hardaker, who won Man of Steel last season as Super League’s finest player, has been affected but he feels they can resuscitate themselves – if they adopt some of their old inner belief regardless of lack of form.
“When I first came to the club we finished fifth twice, but I think we went out there and we thought we were going to win,” said the player, who has won three Grand Finals since joining from Featherstone Rovers in 2010.
“We had that much confidence, we thought ‘we are going to beat these’ and it showed.
“That’s not a bad thing to have, whereas now we are going into games thinking ‘it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be tough’.
“I don’t think we should be like that, I think we should be really confident because we have got the players, we have got the ability and we’ve got the squad.
“If you go on squads and wrote a list down of all the names, we’d definitely be up there. Just something is not gelling and not working at the moment.
“The last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at it and I think it’s just defensively.
“If we can sort that out our attack will take care of itself; we can attack from anywhere.”
Hardaker accepts it is imperative they avoid a fourth successive defeat this evening.
“It’s massive to get any sort of win, whether we score 40 points or we score four and keep Salford to zero,” he added.
“The buzz, confidence and belief it will generate is worth more than just the two points.
“We have got it in the team, but when we go behind it is hard to get the boys motivated and trying to win the game. I am sure if we get some kind of result on Saturday that will go a long way for the rest of the season.”
He could find himself playing on the wing, too, after Brian McDermott selected him there in last Friday’s 30-10 home defeat to Hull KR with England colleagues Ryan Hall and Tom Briscoe both injured.
“He asked me during the week and it was just through lack of wingers,” explained Hardaker, stand-off Liam Sutcliffe playing at full-back instead.
“He could have put Sutty on the wing, but I just have more experience. I don’t actually like it, but if I am asked again this week I’ll say yes, no problem – I will play anywhere for a win.
“That’s what it’s like at the moment; we are just trying to find that next win and go from there.”
Salford have certainly improved since last term, when Leeds defeated them 70-6, and Hardaker said: “They have been really good in some games, especially the Saints one.
“They have got a good mentality and ethos about the place now.
“They’ve got players wanting to play for the club, play for the shirt and play for their mates. That’s what rugby is about.”