MAN OF Steel Zak Hardaker insists there’s more to come from him this year.
The 2015 campaign was a triumph for Hardaker, who starred in Leeds Rhinos’ three title-winning games, was named in the First Utility Super League Dream Team, took the sport’s top individual award and played for England in their Test series victory over New Zealand.
He has a hard act to follow – beginning tonight when Rhinos kick off the new season at home to Warrington Wolves – but Hardaker insisted he will not be resting on last year’s glory.
“On a personal level I want to do better than I did last year and I am very confident about doing that,” Hardaker insisted.
“What I achieved last year was brilliant and it will be tough to top that, but I have got bits to work on and things to achieve, that I want to do.
“Personally I think I can improve on things and better myself, so we will see how that goes this year.
“I want to achieve more man of the match awards and there’s things like the Lance Todd [man of the match award in the Challenge Cup final] I haven’t won – little things like that to aim for.
“They will be my personal goals.”
Man of Steel winners have sometimes struggled to reproduce that form the following year, but Hardaker is confident he won’t fall into the same trap.
He added: “I am going to do better than I did last year, that is my goal and it is what I am going to do.
“I am very confident about doing that.
“I feel as the season went on I improved on the things I wasn’t particularly good at or confident of doing and that’s something I have taken into this year.
“I am really looking forward to the start of the season and really looking forward to what can happen this year with this group of men.”
Hardaker admitted he is also keen to get through the year free of controversy – and stressed he is a more mature player and person than a year ago.
The 24-year-old missed Rhinos’ trip to Warrington in round three last year after being suspended by the club following an incident on a night out in Leeds.
That was the latest in a string of controversies, but he believes those issues are behind him – and the problems in his past are making him a better player now.
“There’s certain things that happen and I have come out the other end and done pretty well,” Hardaker said.“I am over the stuff that’s happened before. This is a new year and it’s a new-look squad and a new team.
“We are going into the season very confident about what we can achieve, but it is one step at a time.”
Now in his sixth season at Leeds, Hardaker will be looking to take more of a leadership role following the departure of club legends Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluai.
Tonight is Leeds’ first competitive game since the star trio moved on and Hardaker conceded all three will be missed.
“JP was massive as a leader, not only for me, but for us as a team,” he said.
“Kev as well, he took time out to help me with my personal life and to be without those guys who led us out on the field and in the changing rooms and helped us away from rugby as well is going to be a big miss.
“But we have got Magsy [Danny McGuire] who is going to take us forward as captain this year.
“He has been leading us since I have been at Leeds, as well as the two guys I have mentioned.
“I think it will spur him on a little bit more this year to do even better.
“We have got leaders all around the team, it is just a matter of who speaks on the day.”
New signings Keith Galloway, Beau Falloon and Brett Ferres are all included in Rhinos’ initial 19 for tonight, but Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Stevie Ward remain on the long-term casualty list.
Hardaker described Leeds’ new squad as “massively deeper” than last year.
“Gary [Hetherington, Rhinos’ chief executive] and Brian [McDermott, Leeds’ coach] have done really well to attract those kind of players, the very high-profile players we’ve got,” he said.
“That is tremendous. The late signing of Brett Ferres is absolutely huge.
“There’s not many players of his quality available and that’s why the club acted when it did.
“The boys were all chuffed when we heard he had signed, he has fitted in really well and everyone knows what he can do.
“He is a great addition and some of the young lads who are coming through are really exciting.
“It think we have got a really good squad this year.
“We have got players who can cover many positions and going into a long season it is important to have key performers in key positions.
“People get injuries, but we have got a lot of strength in depth this year.”
Leeds Rhinos from: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Galloway, Falloon, Cuthbertson, Ablett, Sutcliffe, Delaney, Singleton, Garbutt, Keinhirst, Walters, Lilley, Ferres.
Warrington Wolves from: Clark, Cox, Currie, Dwyer, Evans, Gidley, Hill, Hughes, Jullien, King, Lineham, Penny, Philbin, Russell, Sandow, Sims, Westerman, Westwood, Wheeler.
Referee: James Child (Batley).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.