MAN OF Steel Zak Hardaker believes a win – any win – will transform Leeds Rhinos’ season.
Rhinos travel to their usually happy hunting ground of Salford tonight desperate to climb out of a deepening hole.
Last year’s treble winners are second from bottom in First Utility Super League and have collected just two points from nine rounds.
Leeds have never lost away to Salford in Super League and have been beaten by the Red Devils just once in 36 meetings during the summer era.
Hardaker reckons it is vital they extend that dominance this evening and if they do, it could prove to be a turning point in their year.
“It’s massive to get any sort of win, whether we score 40 points or we score four and keep them to zero,” Hardaker insisted.
“The buzz and 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.
“If we get some kind of result on Saturday that will go a long way for the rest of the season, I am sure.”
Rhinos have struggled since stalwarts Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai left the club at the end of last season.
Hardaker, though, stressed there are leaders in the side and he feels injuries to the current squad have been more of a factor.
“We have got really strong characters in the team,” Hardaker stated.
“I am probably one of the shouters and bawlers and screamers at people and if they have done something wrong they will know, because I will tell them.
“I have got a bit of JP’s character in me and then we’ve got Magsy [Danny McGuire], who is sort of like Kevin, a bit more measured and will calm the situation down.
“With Jonesy [Jamie Jones-Buchanan] it depends on what mood he is in whether he is going ballistic, but he is quite intelligent and he looks at things from a different point of view.
“We have definitely got leadership in this team. It is just a shame Magsy has been out a few weeks, Hally [Ryan Hall] has been out, Tom Briscoe is now injured.
“Brett Ferres, who I thought was probably our best player in the first few weeks, is injured now, so that is a bit of a kick in the teeth when you are down already.
“I think we just need to generate a win and that will get a bit of a buzz around the boys.”
The full-back admitted confidence is low, following eight defeats in 10 competitive games since Rhinos’ 2015 Grand Final triumph. He added: “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.
“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.”
Salford began round 10 in eighth place, four points clear of Rhinos.
“They have been really good in some games, especially the Saints game,” Hardaker observed. “They have got a good mentality and ethos about the place now.
“I think 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.
“That’s what I think is gelling them together. Their half-back is going really well and Ben Murdoch-Masila in the back-row looks really good.
“They’ve two solid centres and the spine – the nine, six and seven and Gaz O’Brien who has been playing full-back – are doing really well.
“They’ve got some good players so it is about us getting out there on Saturday and doing a job and trying to get two points.”
Hardaker played on the wing for most of last week’s defeat by Hull KR, following injuries to Briscoe and Hall.
“He asked me during the week,” Hardaker said of boss Brian McDermott’s decision to switch his position. “It was just through lack of wingers. He could have put Sutty [Liam Sutcliffe] on the wing, but I just have more experience.
“It was unusual, it was a bit frustrating because I wasn’t doing my usual job. Then he changed it with 20 minutes to go so I did try to do my usual things, but it was a bit too late.
“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 we’ll go from there.
“But I will play anywhere at the moment for the team, that’s what every player should do.”