Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker: We've still got our sights on top four

Leeds Rhinos v North Queensland Cowboys - World Club Series

Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker says the fallen champions still have their sights set on a top-four finish in Super League.

The Rhinos are 11th in the table, 12 points adrift of leaders Warrington, after winning just two of the first nine matches of their title defence and will go to Salford on Saturday rock bottom if fellow strugglers Huddersfield win at Hull on Friday night.

The Giants coach Paul Anderson has confessed that he has been forced to re-align his team's target from a top-four spot into a battle to avoid relegation but Hardaker insists his side will not give up their crown without a fight.

"I saw Paul Anderson say they are looking to get out of the bottom four and it made me think," said the reigning Man of Steel. "We've still got our sights on the top four.

"We believe we can get there but at the moment we've got to shorten our sights and try and beat Salford on Saturday. That's where we're at.

"There's no crisis whatsoever, there's no panic. We've been in similar situations before, probably not as bad, where we finished fifth and went on to win the Grand Final when nobody thought it was possible.

"Last year we got wrote off a few times and went on to do the treble so this is not new to us. The position on the league table is new but all the boys are rallying together, we're just trying to get that spark we've been missing."

Like many teams, the Rhinos have been badly hit by injury - skipper Danny McGuire made his first full appearance more than two months into the campaign and Stevie Ward has yet to pull on Kevin Sinfield's old number 13 shirt - and Hardaker believes the loss of the club's training facilities, swept away in the Boxing Day floods, has affected the champions more seriously than many realise.

Bounce back

"There's quite a lot of things we could put our finger on I reckon," he said.

Leeds Rhinos v North Queensland Cowboys - World Club Series

"Since our changing facilities went down, we haven't got a steady gym or pitch, so that's not been really helpful.

"We're using local gyms - sometimes fans are in there at the same time which is not ideal - and sometimes we train at Leeds Uni but they get first choice so we've got to shop about for a pitch.

"It's not that difficult for the players, it's just a piece of grass and we just turn up and train, but it's difficult for the backroom staff trying to sort our week out.

"Then the injuries are not very helpful and the loss of form, people are not playing as well as they did last year or not living up to expectations yet. We just need to get that first win and get that confidence around the camp again."

While the majority of Leeds' big-name players have floundered, Hardaker has consistently earned the praise of his coach Brian McDermott for his battling efforts but he admits the pressure of being a senior player in a struggling team is affecting his performances.

"I've done alright, I've tried my hardest, that's all I can do," he said. "Something I've perhaps tried too hard, given a silly pass or a rubbish kick, just trying to generate something to happen for the lads and it's a bit frustrating.


"It's very difficult at the moment, we've got young lads stepping into positions they don't normally play and we're not playing well together as a team."

If Leeds' slump continues, Hardaker's full-back role for England's Four Nations Series could be compromised, especially with his big rival Sam Tomkins nearing his comeback from knee surgery, although he says that is currently the least of his worries.

"I'm just focusing on Leeds at the moment," Hardaker said. "If the form from the club and myself is not good enough this year and I don't get the nod, then that's fine.

"It's something I'll have to look at at the end of the year. At the moment I'm fully fixed on Leeds and trying to get back to where we should be. It's not worrying me too much at the moment."

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