Leeds Rhinos icon Amy Hardcastle makes defiant vow after 'tough' Women's Super League season
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Hardcastle joined Rhinos from St Helens ahead of the 2023 season and began the year in the second-row before reverting to her more familiar role at centre. She scored two tries in a player of the match performance for England against Wales last Saturday and will play for Leeds alongside friend and former Saints teammate Shona Hoyle next year.
The England accolades were a welcome boost for Hardcstle at the end of a testing season and the 34-year-old powerhouse is already planning how she - and Rhinos - can be better next year.
“It has been a tough season for me,” Hardcastle conceded. “I struggled a little bit with my confidence and stuff, playing in the back-row. It has been nice at the back end, getting back into the centre position, finding my confidence again and building that self esteem and believing what my ability is.
“To be able to come to England has been good, with Stu [Barrow, the national coach] believing in me that I’ve still got it. I do believe I’ve still got it and I am going to continue to work as hard as I can.
“My body feels fine and my head is in a great place and I will push as long as I can until my time is up. What I would say is I am one of the experienced players now, not one of the older ones.”
Since losing to York Valkyrie in last month’s Betfred Women’s Super League Grand Final, Rhinos have begun the process of building a squad capable of regaining the title next season.
Hoyle’s signing follows that of prop Grace Field and back Liv Whitehead, both from York and Hardcastle said the aim is to come back stronger next year. She insisted: “We had a bit of adversity at the beginning of the season and we started a bit shaky, but we knew why it wasn’t there. It is quite exciting to see what next season is going to bring.
“There’s a few fresh faces in there and as the game is growing we are getting more people wanting to play rugby league and play at big clubs. If you have got ability and want to work hard, there’s no reason why people can’t knock at the door. It will be quite exciting to see what unfolds next season.”
Rhinos’ younger players will be a year more experienced and Hardcastle is also relishing seeing what Super League young player of the year Cailin Casey and others can achieve. She said: “Caitlin’s 19 and she didn’t expect to play this year. She thought she was going to come and shadow and get experience. To go from playing at Oulton to being put in at Leeds Rhinos and playing in two finals, she will have gained so much experience from that. She is one for the future, it is exciting to see and I hope I get to play many games with her along the way. It is great to see the younger ones pushing through.”
Last weekend’s 60-0 win was England’s second game of the year and Hardcastle reckons, while it was a good hit out, they need more matches. “It’s so great we get to come together from all different clubs,” she stated. “The bond we had [last week] in camp was one of the most special I’ve had throughout my career. It was a really nice environment and I think that reflects how the game and the culture is changing at England.
“It is fantastic, I feel like everyone’s getting on board and getting behind us and that is so important. That’s what we need, but I do hope there’s more [games] to come and I do believe they are working hard behind the scenes to make that happen in the next few years.”
In terms of England’s performance, Hardcastle added: “I think we started all right, then we went through a bit of a dip and got a bit sloppy and they were in our half quite a lot. They had quite a bit of possession and we made a few errors, but I think what we did well after half-time is we recharged, got some composure and went again. You could see that from the result.”
It was Barrow’s second match as England coach, following the 64-0 defeat of France in April and Hardcastle said: “Stu’s a great guy he’s very calm and very relaxed, but when he needs to tell us how it is, he does that.
“He did it really well at half-time, he made us question ourselves and we came out refreshed. The coaches have worked really hard and we owe that result to them.”