Zak Hardaker is yet again making the headlines this week; it has now been confirmed that the full-back has been given a 14-month ban for taking cocaine after Castleford's Super 8s game with Leeds in September 2017. On the outcome of the case, Hardaker's representatives - Chadwick Lawrence Solicitors - stated: "Zak's legal team successfully argued that, as a result of a number of exceptional circumstances, the 26-year-old, former England player, bore no significant fault in committing an ADVR" (Anti-Doping Rule Violation).

The team also went on to say that "This was a truly exceptional case, where the drug use was never linked to performance enhancement." Well, Rangi Chase - who was found guilty of the same substance abuse in November 2017 - got a 24-month ban, 10 more than Hardaker despite the situation appearing to be the same.


Neither took cocaine to enhance their performance, both took the drug in competition and both have had well-documented off-field problems that could have led to shorter bans on account of mitigating circumstances. Fans of all clubs would love clarification as to why there is a 10-month difference in their respective bans, but of course such cases are kept private.

Most of the Rugby League fraternity are currently questioning why Hardaker's ban was not longer whilst a significant amount of Castleford fans have once more rued the club's decision to sack the full-back before the verdict of his case was reached. But, the Tigers earned the respect and support of most Rugby League supporters by doing so in February this year and, despite the fact that Hardaker will be free to play the sport next season, it was still the correct decision.


Setting a precedent

First and foremost, why would Castleford want a player on their books - and an expensive one at that - that let the club and the whole town down in the build-up to Castleford's most important top-flight game in 92 years? Because of superb timing by the UK Anti-Doping Agency, Hardaker was omitted from the Tigers' squad just two days before the 2017 Grand Final following his indiscretion. Inevitably, the omission meant that head coach Daryl Powell had to move the team around when it looked impressively settled.

The Tigers paid the ultimate price at Old Trafford, appearing disjointed and disheartened and ruining what should have been a more enjoyable experience for the long-suffering fans.


Their dreadful 6-24 defeat against old rivals Leeds was something which the Castleford fans will never forget and for which they will never forgive Hardaker.

Despite forking out £150,000 for the ex-Leeds man midway through 2017, to allow Hardaker back into the fold would have sent the wrong message out entirely. The fact that he showed no remorse whatsoever for the incident - as confirmed at a Castleford Meet the Directors night - highlights just how little respect he had for the club in the first place. Hardaker is an incredibly talented player and Castleford are still learning to adapt without him. But, for a club that prides itself on its family ethos and culture, to have bent over backwards to keep Hardaker at Castleford would have destroyed everything the Tigers have built up over the years.

Will he ever actually learn?

Leeds gave Hardaker numerous chances before finally cutting ties with him in 2016. For each misdemeanour Hardaker has committed, the full-back has professed that he has learnt from his mistakes.

But he keeps on making them. To quote a well-used phrase, "a leopard never changes its spots" and it would surely only have been a matter of time before he once more let Castleford down. At 26, Hardaker still has many years ahead of him and if Wigan want to take a punt on him for what is reported to be a very high salary, then that is there business. But, Castleford made the right decision; no one person is bigger than a club, despite what Zak Hardaker thinks.