Hardaker handed five-match ban

Andover Advertiser: Zak Hardaker has been banned for five matches Zak Hardaker has been banned for five matches

Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker has been given a five-match ban after being found guilty of homophobic abuse.

The 22-year-old England international was also fined £300 by a Rugby Football League independent disciplinary tribunal which sat for almost four hours in Leeds.

Hardaker, who was represented by his club's legal team, was charged with a grade E offence, which carries a suspension of between four and eight matches, after his offensive comments were spotted on television during Leeds' 24-6 defeat by Warrington 11 days ago.

Hardaker last week issued an apology for his comments, admitting he used inappropriate language and insisted they were aimed at Warrington captain Michael Monaghan, rather than referee James Child, which appeared to be the case.

"I have complied fully with the RFL's investigation, never looked to deny what I said and will accept their judgement," Hardaker said in his statement.

Hardaker, who was thrown out of England's World Cup squad after a breach of discipline last November, has missed only one match for his club in the last 14 months but will now by sidelined until the middle of July.

However, it could have been worse for the former Featherstone player.

Although there is no direct precedent, tormer Wakefield hooker Tevita Leo-Latu was banned for six matches in 2007 for making a racist comment to Warrington winger Kevin Penny.

And Castleford were fined £40,000, which was later halved on appeal, in 2010 after a section of their fans made homophobic chants at openly-gay player Gareth Thomas.

The Tigers were found guilty of unacceptable behaviour, of breaching the RFL's Respect Policy, of misconduct by their supporters and of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the sport.

Hardaker, who will start his suspension when Leeds host Huddersfield in a Super League game at Headingley on Thursday night, pledged to learn from his latest mistake.

"Thankyou everyone for ur support, 5 games it is," he tweeted. "You live and learn and that's life, so I'll just make sure I come out better for it."

Leeds have said they will stand by their player, with head coach Brian McDermott saying: "We welcome the fact that Zak has recognised his mistake and we will work with him to make sure that this type of incident does not happen again in the future.

"As a club and a game, we have always prided ourselves on how inclusive and welcoming our sport is and this incident, and the reaction to it, shows how seriously we all take this matter.

"We were pleased that the panel made a particular point of saying that they did not believe that Zak had meant his comment as a homophobic remark and that they considered that Zak was not homophobic.

"The club has worked hard to raise the issue of anti-homophobia in the past and we remain committed to working against all forms of discrimination."

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