Hardaker is purely focused on facing champions

Leeds Rhinos' Zak Hardaker.
Leeds Rhinos' Zak Hardaker.
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LEEDS RHINOS head coach Brian McDermott says Zak Hardaker is “dealing” with the furore over the latest claims made against him and is ready to do the same with champions Wigan Warriors.

The England full-back will play at DW Stadium tonight against the backdrop of allegations that he used a homophobic comment during the club’s 13-12 defeat by St Helens a week ago.

Hardaker, 22, served a five-match ban earlier this year after being found guilty of a similar offence at Warrington on May 30.

If found guilty again he could be facing a suspension of up to eight games which would not only wreck his hopes of guiding Leeds to more Grand Final glory, but also representing his country in the Four Nations.

However, Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington made a staunch defence of the player on Wednesday, questioning the legitimacy of the RFL’s claims and queried whether a “witch-hunt” had been instigated.

McDermott concurred yesterday and said: “We won’t let it be a distraction, but it’s something that obviously needs to be dealt with.

“Zak’s dealing with it really well. He’s a pro’, a fierce competitor, and while it’s something we don’t want to be dealing with and Zak doesn’t want to be dealing with, he’s determined to get it right on Friday night.

“He’s in a great frame of mind because of it.”

As Leeds prepare for a game that could see them rise from sixth to second in the race for runners-up spot, McDermott added: “The situation is disappointing.

“Everything that Gary said in his statement, which effectively speaks for the whole of Leeds Rhinos, I’ll back 100 per cent.

“There’s nothing in that that I dispute. Of course Zak is (upset). Would you be?

“There’s a few things; when somebody accuses you of something that he isn’t and there’s been a lot of things banded about.

“Guilty until proven innocent it seems, unfortunately.

“They (RFL) shouldn’t be mentioning his name; Zak’s not even under investigation yet never mind been found guilty.

“That happened last time and it’s happening again.”