A WEEK ago he was in the running for the sport’s most prestigious individual honour, now Zak Hardaker is facing a possible long ban from rugby league.
The Castleford Tigers and former Leeds Rhinos full-back has been provisionally suspended after failing a drugs test following the Super-8s derby between the two clubs a month ago.
Hardaker – runner-up to team-mate Luke Gale at last Tuesday’s Man of Steel awards night – was made “unavailable for selection” for the Betfred Super League Grand Final three days ago over what Tigers described at the time as a “breach of club rules”.
The 25-year-old has apologised, via his club, and insisted he has never taken any performance-enhancing substance. Hardaker’s provisional suspension is the latest development in the rollercoaster career of one of the British game’s most talented and trouble-prone stars.
He made his professional debut for Featherstone Rovers – under current Castleford coach Daryl Powell – in 2010 and was signed by Leeds at the end of his first season.
He played in three Grand Final wins with Leeds and was a member of the side which secured an historic treble two years ago, when he was named Man of Steel, but was also dogged by disciplinary issues. Hardaker was fined and issued with a written warning by Rhinos after withdrawing from England’s 2013 World Cup squad for “personal reasons” and dropped for one game two years later following an incident on a night out in Leeds.
A loan spell at Penrith Panthers last year was followed by a move to Castleford on a similar deal in the closed-season. He signed a contract until the end of 2021 – with Leeds receiving a £150,000 transfer fee – on July 1.
Hardaker played a key role in Tigers winning the league leaders’ shield and reaching the Grand Final for the first time and was named in the 2017 Super League Dream Team.
An RFL statement issued yesterday said: “The Rugby Football League can confirm that Zak Hardaker is provisionally suspended from all competition after it received notification from UK Anti-Doping that he had tested positive for a banned substance following a Super-8s game between Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos on September 8, 2017.
“He will therefore not be considered for the England Rugby League World Cup squad. The Rugby Football League will be making no further comment until the outcome of the case has been determined.”
Tigers followed up with their own statement.
It said: “The club was made aware at 10am on Thursday morning that the player would receive official written notification from UK Anti-Doping and therefore the player was immediately suspended. Official notification was delivered on Friday and, following discussions with the player on Sunday, the decision was taken to announce the result of the test [on the Monday] in order to clarify the circumstances around Zak’s omission.”
Hardaker was quoted as saying: “I would like to apologise to my Castleford Tigers teammates, the staff and all fans for my enormous error of judgment. I was given an opportunity by this great club and, in what has been one of the most important weeks in its history, I have let everyone at the club down.
“For that, I truly apologise.
“Finally, I would like to make it clear that in no way did I, nor would I, ever take a substance with the intention of enhancing my performance.”
Tigers said they will be making no further comment “until the outcome of the case has been determined”.
Powell admitted after the 24-6 loss to Leeds Rhinos that his side’s Grand Final preparations were disrupted by the loss of Hardaker, though players insisted it was not an excuse for the result.