Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker happy to take on kicking duties

Zak Hardaker.
Zak Hardaker.
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POINTS MACHINE Zak Hardaker says he will be happy to take on goal kicking duties for Leeds Rhinos next year, if the role is offered to him.

Hardaker landed nine conversions from 13 attempts in last Friday’s 70-6 demolition of Salford Red Devils, despite being the team’s third-choice kicker.

Kevin Sinfield missed the game due to a shoulder injury and Liam Sutcliffe, who has been back-up kicker this year, is on the long-term casualty list after knee surgery.

Sinfield is the third-highest points scorer in rugby league history and holds numerous kicking records, but Rhinos will need to find a new marksman when he leaves to join Yorkshire Carnegie at the end of the season.

Hardaker – who also scored a brace of tries for a points tally of 26 against Salford – said: “I am third in the line for kicking duties. Sutty is second in command, but obviously he’s injured.

“Kicking all week I was striking them pretty well, so it was just about getting out there and doing it when all the fans are watching. It didn’t go too badly, but it is a tough gig to take over.

“He barely misses one, Kev, so it’s a bit of a shame when someone misses one nowadays. He won’t be with us next year, but me and Sutty are both pretty good kickers.

“It is just a question of doing it on a regular basis and getting some kicking form, because Kev does it most weeks. It is something I’d look at next year, but we’ll have to decide in pre-season.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but I’m sure if I get called upon I can do it.”

Hardaker admitted he hadn’t expected to get so many shots at goal in last week’s game.

Salford, on the back of successive wins, were tipped to push Rhinos all the way, but the No 1 said: “It was going to be a tough game. It was one of those games where if we’d come out without the right attitude, Salford are a really good attacking team and they’d have punished us.

“But I think we deflated them early on.

“We started really well and we did really well attacking-wise. Some of the tries we scored were outstanding, but the defensive effort in the first half, to keep them to nil, I thought was outstanding.”

Hardaker felt conceding only one try, a scrambled effort from a kick, was more satisfying than running in Leeds’ highest score since 2009.

He added: “I think keeping them to nil at half-time was a bigger achievement than scoring 40 points.

“It’s great for the fans and it’s exciting, but for us personally, we are really excited about the defence. That will be more beneficial for us, because we know we can attack and score tries.

“We set a goal of them not scoring at all, but 70-6 is a tremendous effort. Salford came off a good win the week before and I thought it was a really good team performance from us.

“Everyone played well and that’ll send us into (this week) happy and in good form.”

Rhinos close their regular season at home to Catalans Dragons on Sunday, when a win would send them into the Super-8s as league leaders. Hardaker said: “That would be really good, especially for the fans. It is a goal we set ourselves early doors and I think we owe Catalans one for last year, when they beat us in the play-offs with a try in the last seconds.

“We tend to play well at home, our home form is good, the fans get behind us – 14,000 was a really good turnout on Friday – and that helps us tremendously.”

Meanwhile, Rhinos under-19s were beaten 40-16 by Castleford Tigers at Stanningley. Ben Brady scored two tries, Tommy Brierley also crossed and Joe Sanderson landed two goals. For Tigers, Declan Sheean bagged a brace and Ash Robson scored a try and three goals, Other try scorers were Tom Holmes, Rory Dixon, Brandon Pickup, Connor Fitzsimmons and Connor Hughes, with Russ Barton adding a goal.