Under-fire Leeds Rhinos and England full-back Zak Hardaker will be hoping to let his rugby do the talking tonight.
Hardaker – who is included in Leeds’ initial 19-man squad for the Tetley’s Challenge Cup quarter-final at home to Leigh Centurions – has admitted using an “offensive term” in last Friday’s defeat at Warrington Wolves.
The RFL are currently conducting an investigation into an allegation Hardaker made “homophobic comments” during the Sky Sports-televised 24-6 loss at Halliwell Jones Stadium.
The governing body did not specify who made the allegation or to whom the comments were supposedly directed, though some observers have claimed referee James Child was the target. Hardaker has now released a statement through the club in which he apologises for any offence caused and claims his remark was directed at Warrington player Michael Monaghan.
The statement in full reads: “Because of the RFL’s investigation, this is the first opportunity I have had to speak about the incident in last week’s game at Warrington.
“First and foremost I would like to apologise for any offence my comments during that game have caused. In the heat of the game, I have used an offensive term and I can honestly say I was deeply saddened when I found out after the game how my comment had been perceived.
“As professional players we know that we have an obligation to conduct ourselves in the right manner for the good of the game at all times, that includes with our team-mates, opponents, officials and of course supporters at the ground and those watching at home on television, and my comments fell below those standards. I would especially like to apologise to Michael Monaghan, who my comments were aimed at. During the investigation, I was made aware that the referee on the night, James Child, also heard my comment and was offended by it.
“I would like to unreservedly apologise to him for that and I can assure him that no offence was intended toward him. I have complied fully with the RFL’s investigation, never looked to deny what I said and will accept their judgement.
“I made a mistake and hopefully, if any good can come from this situation, it is that everyone thinks about the words they say and how they can cause unintended offence to those around us. Clearly certain words have powerful meanings other than that intended at the time.”
In Leeds’ statement, coach Brian McDermott added: “This is a disappointing incident on all fronts. As a club we pride ourselves on representing our game in the best possible light. Zak has made a mistake. I am confident this was a genuine error of judgement and that he understands the offence his comment has caused. The standards set for the modern players are higher than any previous generation with the amount of coverage our game receives on television and online.
“As a club we must help our players to understand the level of scrutiny required to make sure an incident like this does not happen again.”
Rhinos have stressed Hardaker has not been charged or convincted of any offence and is available for selection while the investigation is continuing.