Dave Craven: ‘If’ is the key word on Hardaker’s Wigan road to redemption

Zak Hardaker.
Zak Hardaker.
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AS Brian Carney repeated and emphasised the word ‘if’ he was speaking for every rugby league fan in the country.

Wigan Warriors chose an unusual way to announce Zak Hardaker’s capture on a four-year deal yesterday, releasing a lengthy in-depth video interview with Carney, the Sky Sports broadcaster but also, of course, a former Wigan and Great Britain player of some repute.

He certainly knew the importance of this matter.

Hardaker – who completes his 14 month drugs ban in November after testing positive for cocaine – will be able to start training with Wigan in September and hopefully resurrect a brilliant but chequered career that is definitely at the last-chance saloon.

It was the point during the interview when Hardaker tried explaining why he should be given another chance that must truly have hit home to everyone watching, though. Maybe hopefully even him.

Carney argued some people will say rugby league does not need the ‘repeat offender’ and the ‘baggage he brings’; after all, the 26-year-old admitted attacking a student during his time at Leeds, had to attend anger management courses and was thrown out of an England World Cup squad due to alcohol issues.

All before news of his positive cocaine test broke just two days before Castleford Tigers’ maiden Grand Final appearance last October.

Admittedly, Hardaker made a decent response and answered by saying that, as a working-class lad, who has clearly had so many highs and lows like so many of the population, he could serve as a different type of role-model to the usual ‘squeaky clean’ player.

He could show that, despite all his failings and problems, he could come back and still be ‘there’ as a professional athlete.

At that point Carney jumped in: “If you can change. If. That’s the thing. They can’t look up to you if you let them down again.”

And that is the issue. It is such a big ‘if’. Anyone who knows Hardaker will hope he does realise this is it and he has to change.

He seemed genuine when discussing how the reality of having to work in a nine-til-five job had hit home hard on him and served as a reminder about what life would be like if he did stray again.

Missing rugby for the first time in his life, missing the money, missing the lifestyle. All of these things had been taken away from him for more than a year.

Indeed, when Hardaker does take up residence with Wigan, a good way of spreading the word about the negative impact of drugs would be for him to go and tell that very same story to all players – young and old.

Like many journalists, I have spoken with and interviewed Hardaker on numerous occasions. He is not a yob like some would think. He is affable, likeable and engaging, just prone to making bad decisions.

Wigan have not taken the decision to give him this contract lightly and that club does seem like one which will be able to help Hardaker make the most of this chance. Furthermore, it is pleasing to see he is moving to the area as well and away from the distractions that are clearly closer to home.

I certainly wish him all the best and hope he can make the most of his obvious talents.

But far more than that I hope he can find peace with his own personal issues which have clearly been turbulent, painful and deep-rooted.

If he can, the feeling must be everything else will fall into place naturally and no one will have to say ‘if’ any longer.