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Talking RL: ‘Zak is a talent. His signing would be a gamble’

Zak Hardaker is free to play from the start of next year
Zak Hardaker is free to play from the start of next year

“Do the line, do the time,” tweeted Rangi Chase. One of the most amusing things he has said since declaring himself an Englishman.

He followed it up with another remark, noting his two-year ban was nearly double the 14-month suspension handed out to Zak Hardaker for the same offence.

I must admit, Hardaker’s reduced sentence didn’t sit comfortably with me.

Bigger picture, for what it’s worth, I don’t think any athlete taking cocaine should get a two-year ban from sport.

But the players aren’t blindsided by the punishments. They know the rules beforehand.

And while most people would assume players don’t take cocaine to enhance their performances, it is a prohibited stimulant for a reason.

It isn’t banned because players are role models.

It isn’t banned because it’s illegal (and why are none of these players ever prosecuted for cocaine possession, by the way?).

The truth is, for half the week, it effectively isn’t banned at all.

Cocaine is only prohibited ‘in competition’ – meaning if it is detected in a player’s system on game-day.

Hardaker took the substance two days before a match.

Had he taken it, say, the day after a game – out of competition – he would probably have got away with it.

It is staggering he and others, whatever the circumstances, continue to take such gambles with their careers.

Having missed the Grand Final and the World Cup, Hardaker’s 2018 is a write off, and he will almost-certainly look to get his career back on track with Wigan next year.

He is, no doubt, a talent.

I’ve long admired him as a player, as much for his defensive abilities as his attacking skills.

Yet while I’m excited about the prospect of seeing him play in the Cherry and White, I’m a little sceptical about having him on board.

Many speak glowingly about him, but his track record can not be ignored.

I hope he is getting the support he needs right now, and he really makes the most of his next chance.

If he does, it could be a gamble which pays off – for Wigan, and for Zak.

Social media and the internet are great for media outlets to break news. Great, too, for fans to react to it and engage in conversation.

But in the rush to be first with the news, often the full story isn’t told – and that’s what happened with the Zak Hardaker case earlier this week.

Before UKAD issued its judgement on Hardaker at 1pm, the player’s legal team emailed a statement – embargoed until the same time, and intended to support the UKAD statement – stating his was an “exceptional case where the drug use was never linked to performance enhancement”.

I can picture the journalists, typing up their stories, writing up their tweets, their mouse-cursor or thumbs hovering over the ‘post’ button while they counted down the seconds until 1pm.

And at 1pm, the comment was quickly shared on Twitter and Facebook. Picked up by many media outlets.

It is still the thrust of the story of the BBC’s report. The Guardian’s headline reads: ‘Zak Hardaker receives 14-month ban amid ‘exceptional circumstances’’

UKAD confirmed his ban in a short statement.

But because of issues with its website, the full, 14-page report was not released until about an hour later.

In it, UKAD said, “we do not think the case is quite as exceptional as was submitted to us.”

But, of course, that ‘line’ was already out there.

“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,” the report concluded.

By 2pm, the journalist Rod Studd – not shy in being outspoken – had not commented on Hardaker. He was asked by someone for his views.

“I’m just reading the verdict,” he replied. “Why not get a copy yourself, acquaint yourself with the judgement and then if you feel like commenting do so in possession of the facts. Otherwise you’ll just be part of Twitter’s vacuous, ill informed noise and you wouldn’t want that, would you?”

Food for thought.

A tip of the hat to Swinton, who opened the doors last weekend and allowed fans in for free - resulting in a crowd of 2,155.

Hopefully their 62-8 hammering by Toulouse does not put the first-timers from returning for future games.

“Did not expect to extend the free offer and an open invitation to Toulouse to our try line,” mused chairman Andy Mazey.

Swinton should be congratulated for their bold offer.

England’s halfback partnership from the World Cup Final will be unavailable for the mid-season Test against New Zealand.

Kevin Brown has retired from the international scene, and Castleford’s Luke Gale is facing three months on the sidelines with a broken knee-cap.

I wonder if Sam Tomkins may profit from the changes.

Gareth Widdop played at full-back in England’s latter games, but plays mainly in the halves for St George Illawarra and if he partners George Williams in the halves in Denver, it could pave the way for Tomkins to return.

If the likes of York, Bradford, Doncaster and Newcastle have made a strong sales pitch about the value of League One in recent weeks, West Wales’ most recent result did the competition few favours.

They were hammered 144-0 by York last weekend, setting a new world record.

I’m still wondering how it’s possible to score 84 points in one half. And also whether the winning players uttered, ‘Good game’, when shaking their opponents’ hands afterwards.

Some, I’m sure, will use the blow-out score as a reason to get rid of them.

I’m inclined to go the other way and see it as a reason to offer them more support.

As the Mirror’s rugby league scribe Gareth Walker pointed out, it wasn’t too long ago that Newcastle were the joke of the league - they leaked 100 points twice in one campaign - but are in the play-offs contention for a second successive year, have crowds poking towards the four-figure mark and do a lot of good work in the community.

Sure, there is an argument the struggling sides should not be put into the position they’re in; in the same competition as Bradford and York. I get that.

But in my view, West Wales - and Coventry, and Hemel, and Crusaders - need more help, not less.

Finally, my colleague and good friend Steve Mascord will be holding a launch of his excellent book, Touchstones, in Wigan this Sunday.

It was intented to slot in after the game against Salford, which has since, of course, been brought forward to tomorrow night.
But Steve’s launch is still going ahead at Wigan Central, from 6pm to 8pm.

He is one of the most respected journalists in rugby league on both sides of the world, and has plenty of good stories to tell.

If you need an excuse for a beer on the Bank Holiday weekend, this is it!