FULL-BACK Zak Hardaker says the tackle he was sin-binned for in Leeds Rhinos’ win over St Helens was an accident.
Hardaker was yellow-carded early in the second half after upending Saints’ Travis Burns.
The RFL match review panel will look at the incident today, but Hardaker stressed: “There was nothing malicious in it.
“I didn’t mean to tip him, he just sort of fell. It looked a bit worse than it actually was.”
Referee Richard Silverwood initially produced a red card by mistake. Hardaker said: “My jaw dropped. He seemed to have a bit of a giggle, but it wasn’t very funny when I was stood in the middle of the pitch thinking he had given me a red card!
“It was just one of those things, I’ll have to take it on the chin and see what happens.”
Rhinos scored two tries while Hardaker was off the field and he described that effort as “massive”.
He said: “I didn’t want to let the team down. Full-back is a key position, but they handled it well and we got the win which was the main thing.”
The 46-18 victory was a good way for Hardaker to celebrate a new long-term contract, keeping him at the club until the end of 2019.
He said: “It was a good night, apart from the yellow card.
“The atmosphere and the crowd were unbelievable and they really gave us that extra push, that extra few per cent we need.
“It really showed and all the lads were terrific, in attack and defence.”
Hardaker added: “It felt like a big game and it was, first versus second.
“We’ve gone three points clear now and it’s brilliant to achieve that, but the performance was massive. When you run out at Headingley in front of 18,000 and all the South Standers are jumping about, it is a good feeling.”
Hardaker felt the performance on Friday was even more pleasing than the margin of victory. He said: “It’s not long before the competition splits into the top-eights and the top four in that get four home games, so it’s vital we finish as high in the league as possible. With Warrington beating Wigan on Thursday it was really important for us on the table, but the performance was outstanding.”
With three games remaining in the regular season, Leeds are now three points clear of Saints and a further one ahead of Wigan, who they visit on Thursday.
They look set to go into the Super-8s as league leaders, but Hardaker insisted that isn’t yet in the bag.
Leeds have home games against Salford Red Devils and Catalans Dragons after the Wigan match, but he warned: “Anyone can beat anyone this year.
“That’s been proved throughout the year. We not going to be taking anything for granted. We’ll turn up on Monday, train well and prepare for the game ahead. We’re not really looking at the table. We just want to focus on our performances and keep playing well. If everyone has a good dig and plays well, we normally win.”
Friday’s win followed a 41-16 victory at Langtree Park in April. Leeds will play Saints at least twice more this year, in this month’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final and the Super-8s. Hardaker admitted the two big wins will give Rhinos confidence ahead of those meetings, but he stressed: “It doesn’t count for anything when the whistle goes. It’s not going to affect the way we prepare for the Cup game.
“It’s knockout rugby. We won it last year and we’ve done well so far this year, but performances going into it are most important. If we keep playing well up to that game we’ll be confident we can get the win.”