Leeds Rhinos: Star Hardaker hit by big suspension

Zak Hardaker
Zak Hardaker
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LEEDS RHINOS will be without full-back Zak Hardaker for five matches after he was last night found guilty of homophobic abuse.

But prop Jamie Peacock will be available for tomorrow’s visit of Huddersfield Giants, despite admitting punching in last Friday’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup win over Leigh Centurions.

Hardaker was convicted of a Grade E charge and could have been banned for a maximum of nine games. The ban – one game more than the minimum set punishment for a Grade E offence – begins immediately and covers tomorrow’s match, plus fixtures against Widnes Vikings, Catalan Dragons, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Hull KR.

The England ace – who was also fined £300 – was represented at the hearing, which lasted several hours, by Robert Brackup of the club’s solicitors Chadwick Lawrence. The RFL launched an investigation after Hardaker was accused of making a homophobic comment in the defeat at Warrington Wolves.

Meanwhile, Peacock was charged with Grade B striking –which normally results in a ban of one or two games – following his sin-binning in last Friday’s Cup tie. The former England captain could have submitted an early guilty plea, which would have resulted in a one-game ban, but instead opted to state his case in front of the disciplinary panel.

Peacock, who pleaded guilty, was fined £300, but escaped without a ban after the committee “took into consideration the significant provocation that led to the incident and the player’s previous exemplary disciplinary record”.

Peacock declined to comment afterwards, but Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “We are pleased with the panel’s decision and I think it is a fair call, when you take into account provocation and Jamie’s record. You can’t retaliate in our game, but when you are attacked the way he was, any human being is going to react.”

An RFL spokesman said Hardaker pleaded guilty to the offence of using verbal abuse based on sexual preference, but denied aiming his remarks at a match official and claimed he was unaware of the connotations of his remarks.

The tribunal accepted Hardaker is not homophobic, but were satisfied the remarks were made to the match official.

“The tribunal took into consideration the player’s contrition, his guilty plea and evidence that he is undertaking voluntary work in the LGBT community.”

Jordan Lilley

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