England assistant coach and Widnes boss Denis Betts has denied that rugby league has a serious problem with drugs.
Betts, who had to suspend one of his own players in Rangi Chase for failing a drugs test earlier this season, was speaking just days after it had emerged Castleford fullback Zak Hardaker had tested positive for cocaine.
But he insisted the problems with drugs in rugby league are linked to society as a whole – and says they are not exclusive to rugby league.
He said: “I had this with Rangi; I’ve no malice towards these lads because they’re just kids who’ve made mistakes and done something stupid,” he said. “This is not a rugby league issue though, this is a society issue. He’s got issues, he’s always had issues and it’ll get to a point where he might have to make some decisions about lifestyle and what he does next.
“My wife teaches in a nice area and drugs problems all over. Society in general has got some things to deal with, and it’s just a young man who has background issues with where he grew up, anger issues he’s dealt with and he’s got money in his pocket. It’s hard for me to comprehend because it’s something Ive not been involved with but it’s something I can’t understand what he did. I can’t see what he was even thinking.”
Betts, speaking on Mental Health Awareness Day, also added that he feels rugby league is one of the leading sports when it comes to dealing with off-field issues troubling players. He said: “We’re outstanding for support. There are some things that could be done better but we’re as far advanced as any other professional sport with our mental health issues, our support chains and all the help. We’re really good.”
Hardaker’s suspension impacted on England’s 24-man squad for the World Cup – a tournament England will fly out and prepare for on Thursday.
And Betts admitted that Hardaker was not only going to be in the squad, but he would have likely played a key role, too.
He said: “You move on and control what you can. We had contingency plans if someone had got injured and we had some big input from a lot of people. Zak was in the squad and he’d have probably played in the team because of how well he was playing, but there was always a chance he could have got hurt so you make contingency plans.”