McDermott leaps to Hardaker defence

Congleton Guardian: Zak Hardaker must serve a five-match ban but it could have been worse Zak Hardaker must serve a five-match ban but it could have been worse

Leeds coach Brian McDermott insists homophobia does not exist in rugby league.

The former Great Britain international spoke out on Wednesday over the treatment of the Rhinos' full-back Zak Hardaker after he was handed a five-match ban for "using verbal abuse based on sexual preference".

Hardaker admitted making the remarks during his side's Super League defeat at Warrington 12 days ago but denied they were aimed at referee James Child and claimed he was unaware of their connotations.

McDermott, speaking at his weekly press conference ahead of Thursday's game against Huddersfield, said: "From the outset, our club has always had a stance against any form of discrimination.

"We actually had a week designated to the Lesbian, Gay and Trans-gender organisation and Zak Hardaker and Kallum Watkins were the cover boys on that.

"Zak fully accepts the punishment that's been handed out to him. From the outset, he's shown remorse and realised the error of his ways.

"But he's really upset that he's getting accused of being homophobic. He's been found guilty of using offensive language and causing offence.

"To inaccurately tar a young man with that is irresponsible."

The Rugby Football League's independent disciplinary tribunal accepted that Hardaker is not homophobic but were satisfied that the remarks were made to the match official.

Hardaker will be sidelined until mid-July but is expected to attend the England training camp in Loughborough this weekend.

Axed from England's World Cup squad last November for a breach of discipline, he was recalled to the international set-up after responding with a series of impressive performances for his club and McDermott expects him to once more bounce back.

"It's a tough week for Zak and it will continue to be a tough week," McDermott said. "He's getting hammered from everybody for two words that he shouted out.

"I'm not defending it but you've got to have a balanced opinion of this.

"Zak will pull through. He's in the form of his life and that's because he's been doing the right things, both off the field and on the field.

"He's a young honest man. At times he's a young silly man but he is only 22. He'd be something our game should be proud of at the moment. Leeds are certainly proud to have him in the team and I'm sure he will react to this in the right way.

"It's a shame that the whole game has been brought into question. But one of the positives is whole game's response. We haven't tried to sweep it under the carpet, we've been very transparent with how we've dealt with it. What is has proved is that there is absolutely no homophobia in our sport."

Meanwhile, McDermott has hit out at the RFL's failure to punish Leigh forward Matt Sarsfield for instigating a fight with Leeds' former England captain Jamie Peacock during last Friday's Challenge Cup quarter-final.

While the match-review panel decided the sin-binning was sufficient punishment for Sarsfield, Peacock was ordered to face a disciplinary hearing and only avoided a suspension because of the provocation and his previous exemplary record.

"That had a massive bearing on last night," McDermott said. "You can't fail to recognise that.

"There is a sense of frustration of why he was even called up. Our game has never really made a distinction between the thug and a braveheart.

"It almost seems to be making too strong a point on the people who retaliate and not enough about the people who are the actual instigators.

"Leigh had a strategy to win the game. They felt they couldn't deal with JP's open and honest game where he just runs as hard as he can and keeps as fit as he can so that he can last longer than anybody else.

"Leigh concede they can't do that so what they do is wait until he is on the floor and cheap-shot him and head-butt and try to get him to retaliate and get sent off.

"While ever those thugs aren't being made accountable, you will always give those thugs the motivation to do it.

"It's unbelievably frustrating. It was a head-scratching moment when they said the Leigh player wasn't acting against the spirit of the game."

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