Leeds Rhinos: Brilliant! - Hardaker hails Wembley return

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ACE FULL-BACK Zak Hardaker summed up the mood in Leeds Rhinos’ changing room last night in one word – “brilliant”.

But Hardaker warned the job is only half done after Rhinos beat St Helens 24-14 to reach their fifth Challenge Cup final in six seasons.

Zak Hardaker

Zak Hardaker

Hardaker scored Rhinos’ first try and he said: “It feels brilliant.

“We were working towards this at the start of the year, it was one of our goals to reach the Challenge Cup final.

“There’s no better place to play than Wembley. Half the job is done, because we have got to go there and win it, but the atmosphere was outstanding and to get the win was fantastic.”

Rhinos led 12-0 early on and were 18-4 ahead soon after the break, but Saints hit back to get within four with a quarter of the game left.

“The style of rugby we play is really good to watch,” Hardaker said.

“In the first 20 minutes or half an hour I thought we were in control, but some of the offloads and passes we were giving probably weren’t on.

“We gave them field position which they would not have got, but that’s a semi-final – it is knockout rugby league and they came up with some terrific tries.”

Hardaker felt Leeds showed their resilient side under pressure after the break. We are a very tough group of men,” he added. “There’s a lot of experience in the team and we’ve been there and done it before. To have that experience is good and it paid off for us.”

Rhinos’ victory was marred by a knee injury to Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who was stretchered off in the second half and looks set for months on the sidelines. Hardaker said: “He is a terrific player for us and a great bloke to have in the dressing room and we all hope he’s all right.”

Rhinos coach Brian McDermott said: “We are unbelievably pleased to be in the final. Given the circumstances that first 20 minutes was the best I have seen us play.

“We got a grip on the game, we had to do some tough stuff but that first 20 probably got us the game.”

Ryan Hall in action during the Rugby League World Cup. PIC: PA

International rugby league to return to Leeds, Hull and Liverpool in 2018