Hardaker issues apology
4:23pm Thursday 5th June 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker has issued a public apology for making homophobic comments during last Friday's Super League match at Warrington.
The 22-year-old England international is currently being investigated by the Rugby Football League and looks certain to be charged with breaching their Respect policy and bringing the game into disrepute.
In the meantime, Hardaker broke his silence by apologising for his remarks, which he says were aimed at Warrington captain Michael Monaghan rather than referee James Child, which appeared to be the case.
It is the second time in seven months that Hardaker has been forced to issue a public apology. In November he was thrown out of England's World Cup camp for a breach of discipline and fined £2,500 by his club for breaking their code of conduct.
Hardaker was also at the time given a warning by his club, who have described the latest incident as "a genuine error of judgement."
The player's statement said: "Because of the RFL's investigation, this is the first opportunity I have had to speak about the incident in last week's game at Warrington.
"First and foremost I would like to apologise for any offence my comments during that game have caused. In the heat of the game, I have used an offensive term and I can honestly say I was deeply saddened when I found out after the game how my comment had been perceived.
"As professional players, we know that we have an obligation to conduct ourselves in the right manner for the good of the game at all times, that includes with our team-mates, opponents, officials and of course supporters at the ground and those watching at home on television, and my comments fell below those standards.
"I would especially like to apologise to Michael Monaghan, who my comments were aimed at.
"During the investigation, I was made aware that the referee on the night, James Child, also heard my comment and was offended by it. I would like to unreservedly apologise to him for that and I can assure him that no offence was intended toward him."
Hardaker added: "I have complied fully with the RFL's investigation, never looked to deny what I said and will accept their judgement.
"I made a mistake and hopefully, if any good can come from this situation, it is that everyone thinks about the words they say and how they can cause unintended offence to those around us. Clearly certain words have powerful meanings other than that intended at the time."
Hardaker was this week included in England coach Steve McNamara's 34-strong squad for a mid-season training camp after expressing his remorse for last November's incident and he has been named in the Rhinos squad for Friday's Challenge Cup quarter-final against Leigh.
Leeds coach Brian McDermott said: "This is a disappointing incident on all fronts. As a club we pride ourselves on representing our game in the best possible light. Zak has made a mistake.
"I am confident this was a genuine error of judgement and that he understands the offence his comment has caused. The standards set for the modern players are higher than any previous generation with the amount of coverage our game receives on television and online.
"As a club we must help our players to understand the level of scrutiny required to make sure an incident like this does not happen again."