Hardaker saga: Your questions answered
As speculation linking Zak Hardaker with a move to Wigan rumbles on, here is everything you need to know...
Have Wigan signed Zak Hardaker?
Shaun Wane says not.
But he has admitted he would be interested in recruiting him – he described him as “a fantastic player” in his weekly press conference last week.
There are rumours an agreement is already in place, and a leading official at another Super League club, who had been keen on the ex-Leeds and Castleford star, believes he is Wigan-bound.
But it would seem unlikely a deal would be finalised – or confirmed – until UK Anti-Doping has concluded its case into Hardaker.
He tested positive for cocaine late last season and was suspended ahead of the Grand Final.
Why would Wigan be interested in him?
Because he’s quality. In an era when it is increasingly difficult to sign top-quality players, Hardaker could be a big asset for any side.
At Leeds, he won three Grand Finals, a Challenge Cup and the 2015 Man of Steel prize. He had a stint at Penrith in the NRL before joining Castleford, initially on loan, and was last season short-listed by his peers for the Man of Steel.
But he’s a full-back, and Wigan already have Sam Tomkins and Morgan Escare...
True, but Hardaker can play centre. And besides, depending on when he is cleared to resume his career, the Wigan squad may have changed.
Are fans happy at the prospect of Wigan signing him?
It depends on who you speak to. Some are excited at the thought of seeing the 26-year-old in the Cherry and White, but the idea doesn’t sit comfortably with others.
It isn’t that they don’t rate him as a player – it’s his track-record off the field which concerns them.
He missed out on the 2013 World Cup and was fined by Leeds after he “acted unprofessionally”.
In 2014 he was given a five-match ban after being found guilty of homophobic abuse and the following year, assaulted a student.
Since then, he had – pardon the pun – kept his nose clean until his doping suspension.
Wane often talks about having ‘good people’ at the club. What has he said about it?
“I don’t know the details of what he’s done,” he said. “I know him as a person, I’ve met him, he’s a fantastic character. If he has made an error, he’s made an error and he needs to deal with it.
“There’s nobody more difficult than Micky (McIlorum) in other areas off the field, and we stuck with him and made him into a fantastic person. We’re a club that looks after our players.”
How long will Hardaker get banned for?
Athletes who test positive for prohibited substances usually receive two-year bans, dated from the start of their suspension – which would sideline Hardaker until October 2019.
But there are rare cases of athletes escaping with lesser punishments either because of mitigating circumstances, or because the correct protocol was not followed.
Hull City footballer Jake Livermore, for example, escaped a ban in 2015 after the FA took into account the death of his newborn baby.
And earlier this year, prop Ryan Bailey avoided a ban – for refusing a test – because he was worried water from the doping officer may have been contaminated.
Why did St Helens’ Ben Barba only get a 12 week ban for taking cocaine?
Because he was tested ‘out of competition’. There is a popular misconception cocaine is banned because players are role models – it isn’t.
Some drugs, such as steroids, are banned all the time.
Cocaine is only banned ‘in competition’ (a period of around 48 hours leading into a game) because it is a prohibited stimulant.
Of course, it is illegal, which is why the NRL punished Barba for breaking its code on illicit drugs.
When will we know what punishment Hardaker may face?
We don’t know. A UKAD spokesman said it was its policy to not reveal when hearings are.
And the length of time it takes for cases to reach the hearing stage can vary.
For example, Widnes’ Rangi Chase and Wakefield’s Adam Walker both failed tests taken at the same game and were suspended in August. Chase had his hearing in November, and was banned for two years, but Walker’s case has not been concluded.
What has Hardaker said?
Nothing publicly since being quoted on a Castleford press release last October apologising for his “enormous error of judgement”.
Would Wigan have to pay a transfer fee?
No. Castleford confirmed last week they sacked him for a breach of contract – he is a free agent.
would Wigan have the space under the salary cap to sign him?
Yes. Wigan were close to their salary cap limit but, last week, big-earner Frank-Paul Nuuausala was released from his contract – giving them space if he became available now.
And longer term, the Warriors have several players off-contract at the end of this year including John Bateman, Oliver Gildart, Ryan Sutton and Willie Isa, while it is unclear if Sean O’Loughlin and Thomas Leuluai will play on or retire to take up roles on the coaching staff.
If Hardaker joined Wigan, would it be the end of the matter?
Wait and see. Some have already pointed out Chelsea successfully sued Adrian Mutu for breach of contract after sacking the player for testing positive for cocaine. After a lengthy legal case he was forced to pay the club compensation.
Castleford may feel aggrieved at losing Hardaker to a Super League rival, for free – having paid a £150,000 transfer fee to Leeds last June.
But whether they go down the legal route remains to be seen.