Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker’s determined to maintain team focus ahead of World Club Challenge

Zak Hardaker
Zak Hardaker
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LEEDS RHINOS must focus on the job at hand, insists star full-back Zak Hardaker.

Rhinos are six days away from kicking off the new First Utility Super League season, at home to Warrington Wolves.

That is one of only two competitive games before Rhinos face Australian champions North Queensland Cowboys in the World Club Challenge, at Headingley on Sunday, February 21.

If Leeds win that they will hold every major honour – the Challenge Cup, league leaders’ shield, Super League championship and world title – and Hardaker admitted they have a huge incentive.

But with Super League expected to be tighter than ever this year, the reigning Man of Steel stressed they can’t get distracted from making a good start in the league competition.

“It is massive for us, having the chance to win it for the fourth time,” Hardaker said of next month’s clash of the champions.

“We will have all the trophies if we win it, which would be tremendous for the club, but we can’t look too far ahead.

“It is hard not to look at it, but we have got a massive game against Warrington next Thursday and they will be hugely up for that.

“It is on telly, it’s a Thursday night and it’s the first game of the season, so it will be hugely-anticipated.

“We have got to set our sights on that first, we play Widnes the week after and then we can focus on the World Club Challenge.

“It is a goal we have set ourselves, but it all starts against Warrington next week.”

Hardaker will be hoping to get through the next two matches injury free, after suffering a knockout blow four years ago.

“I was injured last time, when we played Melbourne,” he said of Leeds’ 2012 World Club Challenge defeat.

“I broke my thumb the week before, so I sat on the sidelines for that.

“That was tough to do, I wanted to take the pot off, strap it up and play, but the doctor advised me not to.

“I did play in 2011, against Manly. I played in the centres, when we won that.

“I played centre against Jamie Lyon and showed him how to play!

“That’s the only one I have played in. It was disappointing to miss out last time, but if I get to rectify that this year it should be good.

“I am looking forward to playing against the Aussies again.”

Meanwhile, off-season recruit Beau Falloon has been named in Rhinos’ side to face Featherstone Rovers in Sunday’s final pre-season game.

Falloon, signed from Gold Coast Titans, is one of seven first-team squad players in Rhinos’ 17, alongside full-back Ashton Golding, winger Ash Handley, scrum-half Jordan Lilley, props Jordan Baldwinson and Mitch Achurch and second-row Josh Walters.

Baldwinson spent last season at Featherstone and was named Kingstone Press Championship young player of the year. The rest of the squad is made up of players from Rhinos’ under-19s.

Rhinos’ team for Sunday is: Ashton Golding, Ash Handley, Jack Norfolk, Tom Brierley, Ryan Jones, Jack Wray, Jordan Lilley, Jordan Baldwinson,Beau Falloon, Mitch Achurch, Josh Walters, Nyle Flynn,Cameron Smith. Subs Joe Sanderson, Mikolaj Oledzki, Ben Brady, Sam Hallas.