UPDATED: Details of Zak Hardaker's ban

Zak Hardaker will be free to play for Wigan from the start of next season if his widely-expected move goes ahead.

Monday, 30th April 2018, 2:03 pm
Updated Monday, 30th April 2018, 5:51 pm
Zak Hardaker in action against Wigan last season

The former Castleford full-back has been banned for 14 months by UK Anti-Doping for failing a drugs test.

The 26-year-old will not appeal against the punishment, which has been backdated to September 2017, when he tested positive for cocaine.

It smooths the way for him to join the Warriors from November 7 ahead of the 2019 Super League campaign.

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UKAD has published details of Hardaker's case, explaining the sentence.

Hardaker, 26, told the hearing he took cocaine on the evening of September 6 last year as he was upset about the first anniversary of a "distressing personal incident" - details of which are redacted.

He said he consumed up to seven pints of lager with a friend, then shared a litre of vodka and a litre of whisky and continued drinking spirits before being offered cocaine, and he took four or five lines.

Hardaker's representatives Chadwick Lawrence Solicitors said in a statement: "Zak's legal team successfully argued that, as a result of a number of exceptional circumstances... the former England player bore no significant fault in committing an (anti-doping rule violation)."

In its full 14-page judgement, UKAD said: "We do not think the case is quite as exceptional as was submitted to us.

"Mr Hardaker was very upset on the anniversary date of a distressing personal incident and reacted to it by going out drinking with a friend whom he knew had regular access to drugs. When intoxicated, he took cocaine and it remained in his system when he was tested after a match a couple of days thereafter.

"No doubt his... distress did not assist his decision making and the same may be said about the fact he was not taking his medication.

"But the real reason, in our view, that he took cocaine was because it was offered to him at a time when he was not thinking clearly because of his intoxication."

UKAD said the player's evidence was "impressive". "He memorably said that when giving evidence he felt like a 'caged animal'," said the report. "Very creditably, he made no attempt to downplay his conduct, and was utterly frank with the tribunal."

The hearing heard Hardaker had been diagnosed with a condition which he had suffered with since childhood, details of which were also redacted.

Prof Chris Brookes, a non-executive director at Wigan, and the club's director of performance Mark Bitcon were among those who provided evidence. They have both worked with the player in the England set-up - Brookes is the chief medical officer for the England side.

Hardaker's legal team added: "We believe the correct verdict has been returned and we would like to thank the tribunal for their professionalism. This was a truly exceptional case, where the drug use was never linked to performance enhancement.

"In this regard Zak would never take any substance to achieve an unfair advantage and we are pleased that the decision of the tribunal has recognised this fact.

"The last two years have been an extremely difficult period for Zak who, away from the public eye, has bravely battled a number of personal traumas.

"Zak has asked for privacy at this time but thanked his family and close friends for helping him through this difficult period."

Many players have previously received two year bans for taking cocaine, though there have been exceptions.

Although some believe cocaine is banned because it is illegal or because players are role models, it isn't. It is a prohibited stimulant and only banned 'in competition' - a period from 12 hours before a match until ‘the end of such competition and the sample collection process related to such competition.’

In short, players tested after a match are checked for cocaine, but not early in the week as that period is "out of competition".

Hardaker tweeted yesterday to say "it's been a long day" but has not commented since the judgement.

He was initially suspended last October ahead of the Super League Grand Final against Leeds, the club he left for Castleford in a loan deal in 2016 before joining permanently last June for a fee of £150,000.

Castleford announced in February that Hardaker had been sacked with four years left on his contract.

Rumours have been simmering for months that an agreement between Hardaker and Wigan is already in place.

Some have suggested he would be a direct replacement for Sam Tomkins, who is expected to leave at the end of his contract to join Catalans.

But there is also the prospect of him playing at centre instead.

The Warriors already have another high-calibre full-back, Morgan Escare, on their books for the next two years - during which time both centres, Oliver Gildart and Dan Sarginson, are off-contract.

Gildart's deal expires later this year and he has admitted he may be tempted to try his hand in the NRL, with Wests Tigers already showing interest.

The Warriors have not commented on the Hardaker issue although Shaun Wane has previously admitted he would be interested in recruiting him, describing him as "a fantastic player."

Of course, few question his abilities. At Leeds, he won three Grand Finals and a Challenge Cup, and last year he was shortlisted for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award, which he had won in 2015.

But his track record is littered with controversies.

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.

And, with a doping ban to serve, the idea of him joining Wigan does not sit comfortably with some fans.

Wane has previously spoken about having "good people" at the club and, when he was asked whether he would have any reservations about Hardaker, 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.”