Leigh Leopards star Zak Hardaker breaks silence on events leading up to Grand Final drugs ban at Castleford Tigers

BACK in 2017, the Castleford Tigers were at the top of the tree, swatting aside all and sundry on their way to the Super League Grand Final.

Finishing top of Super League by a record ten points, with a record points scored, the Tigers were backed by the overwhelming majority to ease to victory over Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford.

Of course, this was a Leeds side that Castleford had thrashed 66-10 earlier on in the year.

However, the Tigers’ chances took a massive hit when, in the week leading up to the Grand Final, star man Zak Hardaker failed a drugs test for cocaine.

Now, speaking on the Fully Game podcast, Hardaker has opened up on those events.

“It was coming up to about six games left of the season – everyone thinks it was a day before the Grand Final because that’s when it came out,” Hardaker recalled.

“I went to the Lakes for about five days, I turned my phone off and drunk whiskey. It was a tough few days.”

“What spun my mind was the the year before we’d had a miscarriage and it had popped up on my phone of a memory with a picture of the scan picture, so it sent me a bit west.”

Hardaker continued: “We had had training on the Tuesday and then we had Wednesday off. I spoke to my friend and we went for a beer. We were playing Leeds on the Friday so I said we can’t go anywhere near Pontefract in case someone sees me.

“We ended up in Selby and it just ended up spiralling. I ended up doing coke until stupid hours in the morning then slept all day Wednesday, turned up to training on Thursday, played Friday and got tested after the game. Testing is just random.”

“It got to five weeks and I thought I’d got away with it. Wednesday morning, Daryl Powell rings me up two days before the Grand Final. I’ve turned up to the Man of Steel awards on the Tuesday.

“I’d never want anyone to experience that feeling.”

For Hardaker, he loved 2017 as a whole, with the camaraderie within the group special – something which was reflected off the field so much as on it.

“I think 2017 at Cas it was such an enjoyable year. The team socials or whatever you used to do, it’d be the full squad,” Hardaker continued.

“It was very rare that you get a full team doing that, you’d always have a married man with four kids who wouldn’t turn up or some people who are religious and don’t drink and that’s fine but at Cas everyone got stuck in whether it was training or a beer. Everyone was on the same crack.

“If you went for a walk, like a dog walk, there would be lads who didn’t have dogs come along and there’d be six or seven lads out together. It’s quite rare these days to find that.

“Looking back, obviously it was a bit of a s**t ending for myself and the club but throughout the full year from pre-season to when it finished it was a real enjoyable year.”