Despite leaving his Castleford teammates bereft of their star full back for their biggest match in decades, former England international Zak Hardaker has seen the door to remain at the Tigers left ajar by coach Daryl Powell.
In an unexpected twist, and with Hardaker still awaiting his sanctions for his dalliance with the social menace of cocaine which saw him fail a drugs test following his team’s Super 8s victory over his former Leeds Rhinos teammates, 2017’s Coach of the Year Powell has admitted to having had talks with his disgraced full back in order to look at options for his future, stating that “I have had a quick chat with Zak,” going onto say that “I need to have another chat with him which I’ll try to do at some point this week.”
While it isn’t yet known what ban he will receive, the general consensus among the media is that anything less than two years will be a surprise. Interestingly, though, Cas haven’t signed a frontline replacement for the former Featherstone flyer with Powell this week confirming that Samoan RLWC player Ben Roberts will move to full back from his 2017 stand off berth.
After signing initially on loan for the 2017 campaign, Hardaker moved permanently to Castleford from the Rhinos for a £150,000 fee and went onto earn a place on the three man shortlist for the Man of Steel award. However, he became the third player this year to be banned for cocaine use after Rangi Chase – who went onto receive a two year ban from UK Anti Doping – and Wakefield’s Adam Walker.
If Hardaker is retained – or gets a lenient ban – it will no doubt cause uproar in certain quarters of the sport and it is a great shame that off-field ill discipline seems to haunt the full back. There can be no doubt at all that he is one of the most gifted rugby league players of his generation, especially of those eligible for England, but unless he makes changes to avoid issues in the future, the game will be shorn of one who could be a true star.