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Hock ready to seize second chance

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George Riley George Riley | 11:51 UK time, Friday, 13 May 2011

Almost exactly three years ago I wrote a scouting report outlining why young Wigan forward Gareth Hock should be in England's World Cup squad.

Hock made the squad, but the following season he tested positive for cocaine and was handed a two-year ban.

He is now 27, and this week signed a new five-year Wigan contract, barely a month back in training. That news provoked a mixed response, and some raised eyebrows, among my media peers and fellow fans, but the Warriors have made it clear that the contract is "contingent upon his continuing exemplary performance".

But how big is the challenge now facing this former international when he returns to Super League next month? It is a challenge not only of convincing his doubters, and opposition-fan hecklers, that he should command respect once more, but of returning to the very summit of this brutal sport.

Hock offloads the ball during Wigan's Magic Weekend game with St Helens in 209 - photo: Getty

I spoke this week to Ryan Hudson, the Castleford captain, now back at the top of his game after himself serving a two-year drugs ban in 2005.

Hudson was sacked by Bradford without playing a single game of a three-year contract, after he tested positive for the banned steroid stanozolol.

By contrast, Wigan have stood by Hock during his suspension and Hudson believes the Warriors were right to afford the player another chance.

"Anyone can make a mistake but only a fool makes it twice," he told me. "It's not what happens, it is how you react and that comes down to who you are as a person, so only Gaz can control how he responds now."

One thing for certain is that Hock cannot wait to get back on the field. I've spent a couple of games on the back row of the press box at the DW Stadium this season, with him sitting in his suit in the row behind. He was feeling every hit, throwing every pass and applauding every score.

"I'm expecting Hock to make a massive impact when he returns," said Hudson. "I think he'll find it tough, tougher than he may expect. It might take him a month to get his match fitness, as no amount of training can prepare you for that.

"He's returning into a much better Wigan side now with more quality players so that should help."

How tough will Hock find it though? When you serve a two-year drugs ban, you are not even allowed to train with the squad.

Hock has recently cleared to resume training by UK Anti-Doping, even though his ban doesn't actually expire until June 23. So how on earth do you keep yourself in the right kind of shape to be able to step back in at the top level as soon as the suspension ends?

"Training to return after my ban was like training for the Olympics," said Hudson, who describes his ban as the toughest two years of his life.

"It is such a long time. Every month is a goal, and you keep setting yourself new goals as when you are playing Super League the goal is just the end of the week.

"I found the game had moved on a little while I served my two-year ban, but it's like life - life moves on and if you have to take two years out of life for one reason or another then it is very different when you start living your life again."

Hock's mental approach to his suspension saw him tackle a drugs rehabilitation programme, while his physical approach has been helped by a personal trainer.

But Hudson believes such an exile from the game changes you not just as a player, but as a person.

"I learned that as a rugby league player you live your life in a bubble and you shouldn't really moan about working 10 or 20 hours a week. In the real world people have to run businesses and work 60 or 70 hours a week to get by so we are very lucky," he said.

"Life is about getting a balance and a perspective. I hope Gaz has learned from what he did and can move on.

"I learned that there is more to rugby league. I believe things happen for a reason and you deal with it and move on."

Hudson is living proof that a player can bounce back after serving a ban, leading the Tigers' charge at the right end of Super League. But will Hock be treated differently by his peers when the England international returns to the game as a player known to have used drugs?

My good friend Jamie Bloem, a former South Africa international, served a drugs ban - in fact, Bloemy was the first rugby league player to test positive for performance enhancing anabolic steroid nandrolone. It was never quite the same for him when he returned, but Hudson says Hock will be fine.

"None of the players treated me differently on my return but the fans did and you'd expect that," he says. "You get the usual grief from opposition supporters but you don't dwell on it as to live in the past is to stay in the past."

Whether he gets a rough ride or not, Hock returns with a point to prove and an England shirt to win back and Hudson reckons he'll do both.

"Hock will be in the England squad at the end of the year, I'm sure of that. He was a quality player before and that won't have changed. I'd be very surprised if he didn't make it.

"He will come back fresh and be ready to explode after two years without training. He'll feel awesome and ready to rip in. He'll be great for England and good on him."

My personal view is the same as Hudson's. Everyone deserves a second chance and Hock is no different. He made a mistake and should be afforded the opportunity to prove it was just that.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hi George. I agree with your comments although I think Hock's ban is slightly different to Ryan Hudson's and the late Terry Newton's in that it wasn't a performance enhancing drug, merely an illegal recreational one. Hock was wrong to do it and the RFL were right to ban him, but it seems easier somehow to accept him back when you know he wasn't banned for taking drugs that would alter his performance.

    I think Terry Newton's case and his subsequent suicide made sport take a look at how they deal with sportsmen and women who fail drug tests. Newton always claimed it was the love of the game and the desire for his 32 year old body to allow him to keep playing it that caused him to take the growth hormone so his body would heal like an 18-year olds and he could walk up stairs after matches without help. It doesn't make what he did right, but it does provide a reason I think most people would have sympathy with, even if they didn't agree with his breaking the rules.

    As for Hock, I think he has lost two years of his best playing years and it will be interesting to see if he can regain the level he was at before he was banned.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    nobody who watches RL would have expected anything other than Hock serving his ban and starting up with Wigan again

    dont see the point of this article at all - more important things going on within the sport -

  • Comment number 4.

    Completely agree with Royalty's point. While I could never condone the use of 'recreational' drugs like cocaine, there is a difference in that Hock is not a 'drugs cheat'. I look forward to seeing him perform at the highest level again, especially for England; God knows we need all theclass players we can get.

  • Comment number 5.

    Whether you agree with the length of the ban or not, he's "done his time".

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    As a few others have already pointed out, Hock is not a cheat. He did not do anything to illegally enhance his performance. What he did broke the law, and it's questionable whether it's the RFL's role to punish him. The RFL would not suspend a player for shoplifting and has already shown they won't punish a player for assault, so why does it need to step in for recreational drug use?

    Hock did not cheat. He broke a law that thousands of people his age break every weekend. He did not deserve a ban. I hope he is able to continue where he left off.

  • Comment number 8.

    Well done Matt, thats the most sensible reply I have heard for a long toime.

  • Comment number 9.

    Goo d luck on your comebaack Gareth

  • Comment number 10.

    Personally cant wait to see him back in a wigan shirt. He may have had to sit two years out but his biggest punishment will have been seeing the players lift the grand final trophy last year. No doubt he will get flack off the fans at first but i also fully expect him to be back in the england squad at the end of the season. If reports are true hes put some considerable size on and will be coming back as a prop forward and with his speed he could be the new morley/fielden.
    As for the recreational drug use i agree with matt that this isnt performance enhancing, its more dabilitating but all professional athletes have to sign upto the WADA and Sport England anti doping rules and its safe to say he has suffered the consequences for his actions two years ago.

  • Comment number 11.

    every blogger agrees that Hock isn't a cheat so the article comparing him to Hudson who did try cheating is a little pointless!!

 

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