Exclusive: Zak Hardaker believes Leeds Rhinos still within shot of Grand Final as he gives honest assessment on Rohan Smith and Wednesday night Super League

If there is one player that has settled in seamlessly to a new home in 2022, it is Leeds Rhinos’ Zak Hardaker.

After exiting the Wigan Warriors earlier in the season, Hardaker made the trip back home to his native Yorkshire, hoping to secure a deal with a team in his home county.

He did – and it was the club at which his whole Super League career began – the Leeds Rhinos.

Now, the 30-year-old has been in scintillating form for the Rhinos since joining, helping his new team climb into a play-off spot with just three games of the regular season left and Hardaker couldn’t be happier under new head coach Rohan Smith.

“I’m enjoying it, I’m enjoying being back home,” Hardaker told Serious About Rugby League.

“It’s been good and I’m enjoying how we are playing as a club. The players have been brilliant since I’ve been here as well all the staff and fans.

“It’s a great environment to be in at the moment. Rohan’s given us freedom to play and he lets you express yourself as an individual.

“We’ve got some really talented players that can come up with special plays. As a team we can work around those and he came in three months ago new to the team and I was new to the team.

“He’s been letting us express ourselves and he’s given confidence to the rest of the lads, he doesn’t get bogged down too much with details. It’s a bit of freedom to be honest, he lets you enjoy yourself.

“Training has been fun and he has been fun too. He’s got a few jokes about him too. He’s an overall good coach and good bloke. He lets us play how we want within reason.

“When things don’t go quite right, he’s not the one that throws the book at you, he’s brilliant at the no pressure kind of stuff.”

In terms of winning the Grand Final, Hardaker knows just what it takes having been part of a number of successful Leeds teams over the years.

And, despite being sat in fifth, he has the experience of winning it from that exact position, too.

“I wouldn’t say it’s out of reach, we are trying to tick off game by game, week by week looking at the Grand Final is a bit too far ahead of us.

“We are confident going into games, there is no reason why we can’t reach the Grand Final. I’ve been fortunate to be part of a Leeds team that has won it from fifth before.

“The way we have been playing the last few weeks, we are heading in the right direction. We want to finish as higher up the table as we possibly can which will give us a better chance heading into the play-offs. We’ve got to be really switched on.”

The road to Old Trafford is indeed a tricky one as Hardaker, Leeds and the rest of Super League will have to play a high number of games in a very short space of time with the Rhinos coming up against the Huddersfield Giants on Wednesday night – something which doesn’t bother the fullback.

“It’s a strange one but I’m not one of those that gets bogged down. I’m not regimented, it doesn’t bother me whether it’s a Wednesday, Sunday or Monday.

“Games are coming thick and fast so we are barely getting recovery sorted before we are playing again. That’s a stress factor about getting the body right.

“If you have a few niggles after games, you get enough time to heal them and go agin but with three games in 12 days it isn’t going to be that manageable, but as rugby players we are used to things not happening your way and we need to get on with it. Everyone else is in the same boat.”

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