Zak Hardaker has revealed the scale of the mental anguish which followed his pre-Grand Final drugs test failure.
The fullback, then at Castleford, thought he had escaped discovery after taking cocaine, and being tested, towards the end of the 2017 season.
But notification of the failure came two days before the Tigers’ maiden Grand Final appearance, and a club suspension meant he missed the big match at Old Trafford, which Leeds won 24-6.
Hardaker, signed from Leeds for £150,000 on a four-and-a-half-year contract in June 2017 after a successful loan spell at Castleford, was sacked by the club in February 2018, having also been dropped by England ahead of the 2017 World Cup.
In April 2018, UK Anti-Doping announced he was banned from all sports for 14 months, backdated to the failed test in September 2017.
Hardaker, the 2015 Man of Steel who won the Super League title three times and Challenge Cup twice with Leeds, is now at Wigan, and in a candid interview on his team-mate Oliver Gildart’s Offload podcast, recalled: “I thought I was safe (after the drugs test).
“Then on the Thursday (morning), I heard my mum screaming like I’d never heard her.
“At first, I thought something had happened to her dog, but it was (Castleford coach) Daryl Powell on the phone saying the RFL had called and I’d failed a drugs test.
“My world shattered. I thought I’d got away with it by the skin of my teeth. The Grand Final was in two days. I remember I jumped in the car. My mum was scared to death.”
Asked whether she thought he would ‘do something stupid’, the 28-year-old replied: “Yeah, and if I’m going to be honest, there were parts of me that thought I was going to do the same.
“I drove to a canal and sat on the end, feet over the top, and thought ‘what happens if I jump in?’, I was thinking of something to swallow me up.”
Hardaker, meanwhile, also revealed he would like to go into coaching after his playing career ends.
“I know after playing, my job will be either rugby or something physical. Study is not for me,” he explained.
“I’m not saying I’m going to be a head coach, but whether it’s a backs coach or a defence coach, maybe.
“I feel it’s something I’d be good at. It would be a waste if I didn’t.”