UK Anti-Doping have concluded that it was 'almost fortuitous' that banned rugby player Zak Hardaker took cocaine instead of carrying on drinking spirits during a night out.
In their full report of the incident which led to the 26-year-old former Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers player being handed a 14-month ban, the UKAD panel stated that 'had he had another bottle of spirits, he would not be before us'.
Hardaker took cocaine recreationally on a night out with a friend on the anniversary of what the tribunal referred to as a 'distressing personal incident'. Experts accepted he was 'thoroughly intoxicated' when he took the drug, which the panel agreed was not for performance-enhancing benefit.
They accepted he was not a regular cocaine user and did not normally drink mid-week. He was selected for random testing after a match in September 2017, a few days after he had taken the drug.
Hardaker told the panel that he had drunk 'six or seven' pints of lager after a training session, then shared a litre of vodka and a litre of whisky with his friend and continued to drink spirits. He took 'four or five lines' of cocaine.
The report stated: "In a sense, it might be said that it was almost fortuitous that it was cocaine that he ingested rather than, say, another bottle of spirits. There was no performance-related benefit and if he’d had another bottle of spirits instead, he would not be before us.
A two-year suspension was expected, but Hardaker's legal team argued that the circumstances were exceptional and 14 months was handed down instead.
Hardaker, the 2015 Man of Steel, was represented by Leeds-based Chadwick Lawrence Solicitors who, in a statement, said:
“We believe the correct verdict has been returned and we would like to thank the Tribunal for their professionalism.
“This was a truly exceptional case, where the drug use was never linked to performance enhancement. In this regard Zak would never take any substance to achieve an unfair advantage and we are pleased that the decision of the Tribunal has recognised this fact.
“He was commended by the Tribunal for his impressive comprehensive evidence and the fact that he made no attempt to downplay his conduct and was utterly frank with them.
“The last two years have been an extremely difficult period for Zak who, away from the public eye, has bravely battled a number of personal traumas. Zak has asked for privacy at this time but thanked his family and close friends for helping him through this difficult period.”
Pontefract-born Hardaker, who won the treble with Leeds in 2015, had enjoyed a brilliant debut season at Tigers when news of his failed drugs test broke just two days before their Grand Final appearance against Rhinos in October.
He subsequently had his Tigers contract terminated. He will be free to play rugby league again in November, and is rumoured to be considering signing for Wigan Warriors.
The full report and findings of the National Anti-Doping Panel can be read here