Hardaker – I have gears to go up yet

Leeds Rhinos star Zak Hardaker has admitted that he is determined to win the Golden Boot.

Following a trophy-laden year both individually and within a team, the England international and reigning Man Of Steel picked up his latest award this week after being crowned the League Express Readers Poll Player of the Year.

It capped an incredible year for the 24-year-old, who admitted that he was thrilled to win the prestigious crown.

“It’s a huge honour,” said Hardaker.

“It’s more or less the people that are voting that makes it so special. To be voted by the people that watch you is really pleasing.”

One trophy that alluded him this year was the Golden Boot. After being named on the three-man shortlist alongisde Australian halfback Jonathan Thurston and Kiwi full-back Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Hardaker was pipped to the crown by Thurston, a man Hardaker will square off against in the World Club Series next year when Leeds take on the North Queensland Cowboys.

Although admitting he was shocked to be on this year’s shortlist, Hardaker revealed it has made him hungry to win the trophy within his career.

“I never thought I’d win the Man of Steel award, that’s me being 110% honest,” he said.

“To win that was a massive shock and a bit overwhelming, but to get on the Golden Boot shortlist was mind-blowing really. I just thought ‘where does this end’? Just to be recognised by everyone and to be seen in the top three is incredible.

“Now I know I can reach that level it’s one of my goals before I finish my career to get a Golden Boot, whether it’s this year, next year or the year after that.

“I’ve been on the shortlist now and come up short, so we can’t be having that again.”

To do so, Hardaker believes he must improve on his current game, and in an ominous statement of intent, he insisted that he has lots of improvements remaining in his game while also putting his hand up for kicking duties at Leeds following the departure of Kevin Sinfield.

“There’s lots of improvement in me,” he said.

“I’ve been practising my kicking away from the club, and who knows, I might be the goalkicker next year at the club. We haven’t spoken about that yet but I’ve asked for some balls to get some practice in for that.

Bit of fun in the mood.. #knottingley #oldstompinggrounds

A photo posted by Zak Hardaker (@zakhardaker) on

Hardaker has been practicing his kicking during the off-season.

“Secondly, there are lot of little improvements in me, getting a little bit quicker and stronger in certain places. Overall I know I can do a lot better personally and I know I have a couple of gears to go up yet, never mind just one.

“That’s what is pushing me – to do better than I did in 2015. I’ve got all of these little achievements I want to fulfil and hopefully I can start achieving those in the next few weeks and I’ll be flying through the year.

“The personal objective is to be the best player I can be. I know I can do better. That’s why I’m doing the extra training and staying behind to do more work after training. There might have been things I didn’t do in 2015, but I know now in 2016 I will be a better player.

“I’m 24, so I have a few years to find those gears.”

Hardaker isn’t due to return to the Rhinos until January 4th. However with his training already in full flow away from the club, he admitted that he is itching for the new season to start.

“It’s just a matter of getting those games underway.

“I’m sat on my bed watching TV but I just really want the season to start and hopefully for myself and the Leeds Rhinos to be winning games and have people talking about us again.

“I’ve been in the group five years and to win so much has been great. We’ve got a few new boys in the group now and it’s a challenge for us to replicate what we’ve done and win silverware.

“I do believe we have a squad together for the next few years that can achieve lots of great things again.”