Zak Hardaker: Former Castleford Tigers full-back banned for 14 months after cocaine use

Former Castleford full-back Zak Hardaker
Zak Hardaker had joined Castleford from Leeds on a four-and-a-half-year deal in June 2017

Ex-Castleford player Zak Hardaker has been banned for 14 months after testing positive for cocaine in the lead up to the 2017 Super League Grand Final.

The full-back, 26, will not appeal against the punishment, which has been backdated to September when a trace of the drug was found in a urine sample.

His failed test followed a Super 8s game against eventual champions Leeds.

England international Hardaker will be banned from all sport until 7 November when he can join a new club.

Castleford dismissed Hardaker in February after his positive test, having previously suspended him before October's Grand Final, which Tigers lost 24-6 to the Rhinos.

Up until then, he had enjoyed a superb debut season with Cas, helping them to the League Leaders' Shield for the first time as well as making the Super League's Man of Steel shortlist.

His suspension also saw him miss the 2017 World Cup in Australia, where England finished runners-up.

In a statement issued by his legal team, Hardaker, who has been linked with a move to Wigan when he is free to play again, accepted the ban and pleaded "a number of exceptional circumstances" for the failed test.

"This was a truly exceptional case, where the drug use was never linked to performance enhancement," it said.

"In this regard, Zak would never take any substance to achieve an unfair advantage and we're pleased the decision has recognised this fact.

"The past two years have been an extremely difficult period for Zak who, away from the public eye, has bravely battled a number of personal traumas.

"He has asked for privacy, but thanked his family and close friends for helping him through this difficult period."

'Hardaker capable of rediscovering Man of Steel form'

Analysis: BBC Sport's rugby league correspondent Dave Woods

We'd hope to now see the re-emergence of one of the brightest rugby league talents of his generation.

Hardaker will be 27 when he returns and should still be well capable of rediscovering the form that saw him crowned Man of Steel and made him one of the most exciting players in the game.

The likelihood is that he will be a Wigan player soon, so will find himself at a club that will demand the best of him - both on and off the field.

If the story of Hardaker was just about what he does in the playing arena, then it would mostly be tale of a phenomenal talent with the rugby world at his feet.

But this drug ban - albeit reduced from the widely anticipated two years - is the latest in a series of off-field incidents that have blotted his copybook.

If he can now stay out of trouble away from the action, there's no reason why he can't scale the heights again and not only be a major part of Wigan's quest for silverware, but also reclaim his place in the England team.

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