INFLUENTIAL FULL-BACK Zak Hardaker has admitted his ankle injury left him fearing the worst.
Hardaker missed two games after being hurt in Leeds Rhinos’ Magic Weekend defeat by Wigan on May 30, but returned against Hull last Sunday and is in the squad for tomorrow’s Challenge Cup rematch against the same opponents.
His comeback was crucial for Rhinos, whose second-choice full-back Ash Golding is currently sidelined with a back injury.
Stand-off Liam Sutcliffe moved into the No 1 role for the two games Hardaker missed, but hobbled out of last weekend’s match – when he was back in the halves – with knee damage.
“Touch wood, it is pretty rare that I do get injured, particularly when I have to come off,” said Hardaker.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve had to come off through injury, so I was pretty concerned. The last thing I want to do is come off – I’d stay on if I had half a leg, but I couldn’t run, so to benefit the team I came off.
“Reading the signs and knowing my own body I thought it was something quite serious, but luckily the physios – Andy Barker and Ben Harper – have done a fantastic job.
“They kept me off my feet and really nursed me back to health. They have been outstanding and I’d really like to thank them for what they’ve done.”
Hardaker is now looking to make up for lost time in tomorrow’s quarter-final.
“I love playing,” he said.
“It is the worst position to be in, having to sit in the stand watching your teammates and not being able to play alongside them.
“It is very frustrating, but being back on the pitch is a good feeling and I’ll be doing everything I can to help the team.
“I would prefer to play every game. I am only 23 and I can get through a season pretty well. But it has freshened me up a bit and it might help when the lads are getting tired.”
Of his return to action four days ago, Hardaker said: “I got through all right.
“I nudged it a bit in the game, but I pulled through pretty good. My lungs were bursting halfway through the game.
“It was a bit of a scratchy performance, but the main thing was we got the two points.”
Hardaker reckons Rhinos will need to step up a level tomorrow, when Hull will have home advantage.
“It is massive for us, especially at Hull,” he said.
“Their fans really turn up and do really well for them, but it’s a good ground to play at. I like going there to play, it is a great surface and a great stadium. It’s the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup and it will lift the players.
“It is a bit more important than an ordinary game. We narrowly beat them on Sunday, but we didn’t do ourselves any favours.
“We kept dropping the ball and giving penalties away and making errors which turned into tries for them.
“There’s lots of things to work on, but we’ve looked at the video and we’ll be trying to put things right.”