The 18th man column: '˜What example does signing Zak set for youngsters?'
Our 18th man columnists discuss Zak Hardaker's ban and tackle the reserves issue...
Zak Hardaker has received a 14-month ban - fair or not?
David Bailey: I believe the fact that the ban was administered by UKAD should give everyone assurance that the ban is fair and just.
I mean there seems to be a wide ranging variance in the sanctions administered for this issue, not just in rugby league but across sport which I guess is where the criticism and abuse comes into it.
I have grown up with conspiracy theories about Wigan all my life, but considering he’s a free agent, and the ban was nothing to do with the RFL, it seems very laughable that people are convinced Wigan had any influence at all.
Robert Kenyon: I think it should have been longer. Regardless of personal issues nobody made him sniff it, he did so himself.
It should be longer in my opinion, and there should be blanket ban on media coverage once they’ve been sentenced.
One players sniffs cocaine and it’s all over the news and his profile grows whereas thousands keep clean and there’s nothing written about them.
The problem isn’t just rugby league players taking recreational drugs like cocaine, it’s more an epidemic that has taken over society in the last 10 years and is rearing its ugly head more and more in rugby league.
But that’s by the by, they still need punishing because there are young kids who look up to the players and they’re learning about cocaine at such a young age.
I don’t want taking cocaine by sports stars to be normalised, which it is in civvy street. Ben Barba tested positive for cocaine and was banned by the NRL, came to Super League and now all the young Saints supporters idolise him.
So are they going to idolise a drugs cheat and maybe taking cocaine doesn’t seem that bad a thing to do, after all, their hero has taken it.
It gripes me and I hate players who take recreational drugs.
Jon Lyon: Zak Hardaker has been a very lucky boy.
In my opinion a two year ban should be standard for this type of offence.
There should be no mitigating circumstances taken into account. If you want to shove that garbage up your nose then you pay the price. Being under the influence of alcohol because it is the anniversary of a distressing personal incident is no excuse.
If you feel the need to get drunk then why not surround yourself with people who care about you and your plight. Whoever offered drugs to Zak is clearly no friend of his.
If we’re trying to send a message to other rugby league players, other sports and especially young fans then the punishment needs to be consistent and severe.
Darren Wrudd: This question puts the casual observer in an impossible position. Beyond personal opinion, one simply cannot get near the truth of an answer without being fully aware of the complete evidence and disciplinary procedures. I can only put faith I the procedures in place and hope that if they have done their job correctly, then this is a fair outcome for the young man.
Are you happy at the prospect of him playing for Wigan?
David Bailey: If I am totally honest, I am not that happy at the prospect of him playing for Wigan.
Don’t get me wrong if he pulls on the cherry and white he will get my full backing, just like other players who served lengthy bans did (Hock and Flower, the latter for a different issue) but something just doesn’t sit right on this.
He has had numerous chances and whilst his talent is not in question, his mistakes are just too frequent and too serious to ignore.
That being said I think if any club can get him on track it would be Wigan with the environment he would be immersed in.
Robert Kenyon: I like Hardaker as a player, I really like him as a full-back as he is the closest thing in Super League to a traditional full-back.
In the last five to 10 years the full-back role has been an extra stand-off with no real defensive skill.
He’s not in the same league defensively as Kris Radlinski, but Hardaker is old school in my opinion and I like old school players.
What I’m not happy about is that I think we will get bit if he does sign, that’s for sure. I reckon we will get two years out of him max before he messes up and leaves for the next club offering decent wages. Stay well clear I say unfortunately.
But as the flagship rugby league club we need to set the standard, not follow it. I don’t mean cut our nose off to spite our face but we have Tomkins (albeit shortly heading towards the exit door), Morgan Escare, Craig Mullen and Callum Green coming through.
If it weren’t for his antics off the field I’d have him in a heartbeat, but signing him doesn’t set the example for either the younger lads knocking on the first team door or our young and impressionable fans.
Jon Lyon: There’s no doubting Zak’s talent, but he has managed to get himself into several scrapes over the years, all of which have brought the game into disrepute.
It must surely be last chance saloon at Wigan.
It is somewhat harsh on Castleford that they had the morals to sack a star player they had just paid £150,000 for, knowing that he would probably be picked up by a rival for nothing.
That said, he is a free agent, and if Wigan don’t sign him then someone else will, and we certainly need him at centre, if not full-back.
I’m happy to see him get one final chance, but I hope his contract is carefully worded to protect the club should anything else happen, and I hope he is in a place mentally to take this chance.
If so, Wigan could have a potential Man of Steel on their hands.
Darren Wrudd: Firstly may I point out most sincerely that I in no way condone the taking of illegal substances whether it improves performance or not and that in a game where fans idolise the gladiators in our arenas, there is an argument that such actions should keep any player away from our clubs so as not to influence and paint a normality onto the situation.
That said, how can a man prove he is worthy of a second chance unless he is given one to show how he has learned from his mistake?
If Zak is truly sorry and commits to the sport as an ambassador to highlight the potential costs in your life, then he could be an asset to the club and sport in general going forward.
He could turn this situation around and lead the way by future example. If however, the lesson is not learned and the remorse is just that he had been caught, it would soon show up and he could wave goodbye to his career and reputation altogether. Now that would be a waste.
Tomorrow’s home game against Salford has a reserve game as a curtain-raiser - what are your thoughts on the current system?
David Bailey: I find it completely bewildering that there isn’t a set standard for Super League sides, there’s no real uniformity in the sport. Wigan run reserves, academy and a women’s team but are in isolation it seems as most clubs don’t run a reserve team and others don’t run an academy.
It should be part of the requirements to have a reserve team up and running. I mean the RFL could run regional leagues (Wigan, Saints, Warrington, Widnes, Salford etc) to save on costs. I’m not sure a coach every other week to Yorkshire is going to be THAT expensive or detrimental to a club’s bottom line but the fact there are no other options than dual-reg for players coming back from injury or over academy age is just damaging and reducing the player pool further.
Robert Kenyon: All Super league teams should have a reserves comp otherwise there should be big fines, maybe double the cost of actually running one.
That would make them have one.
There are enough lads out there to fill the ranks of the reserves teams and most would do it just for at the prospect of playing first team and kicking in from there. Take Liam Marshall for example, he said himself if it wasn’t for the reserves comp he wouldn’t have made it.
You only need to look at props, who develop a bit later on in their careers.
An 18-year-old prop tying to break into the first team doesn’t really stand a chance and that’s when a lot of them are released and either pack in or go to a lower division team and sometime bounce back up once they hit their prime.
It also helps with project signings and players coming back from injury.
Jon Lyon: For the sake of our game, reserves should be compulsory.
Many first-team players have said in the past that they would have been lost to the game without playing in the reserves.
Dual-registration is all well and good but the club can’t train players properly on set plays to enable them to be ready for first team action if they spend all week at another club.
I understand cost is a huge factor but clubs have found money to start up women’s teams, and how costly is it to miss out on someone like Liam Marshall.
Darren Wrudd: I have said previously that there is a huge gap in our system which will cost our game at home and internationally for years to come.
Without a reserve grade, so many promising players will slip through the system and be lost.
The fact the RFL does not make this a pre-requisite of being a top grade side given a Super League place, shows weak leadership and a total lack of understanding of our sport.
After this week’s big meeting in Leeds, I hope that many things have been settled and the sport can begin to move forward.
But unless we invest in our younger players with a meaningful and competitive league, we will continue to decline as a fringe sport with less and less funds to promote and expand our fan base in the UK.
This is what should be top of the list, not foreign teams and worldwide domination.