Wigan have confirmed the signing of Zak Hardaker on a four-year deal.
Hardaker, 26, is currently serving a 14-month ban after failing a drugs test last September, but will be free to start training with Wigan two months before his ban expires on November 8.
Club Chairman Ian Lenagan said: “This wasn’t a decision that we made lightly. We recognise the serious nature of this incident and our choice in offering this opportunity should not be seen as condoning his actions in any way.
“We had extensive conversations with Zak and his family before making our offer. We encountered a man who, after 8 months of reflection, openly admits that he has made a series of significantly poor decisions over the past few years. Crucially, we also saw someone who recognises that this is the final opportunity to focus on delivering the achievements his talent should generate.
“I have had the experiences in business and sport of offering contrite individuals the final opportunity and environment to learn from their mistakes with some notable successes and occasional failures. Wigan are giving Zak Hardaker that platform to repay the faith his family have shown him. My team at Wigan will manage, mentor and test him through this period of rehabilitation and development and, hopefully, guide him back to being one of the best players in Super League.”
Hardaker was one of the stars of Castleford’s rise to the top of the Super League table last season, but was suspended for the Grand Final against Leeds after failing a drugs test after a Super 8s match against the Rhinos in September.
His contract was terminated by the Tigers back in February, and recently the length of his ban was announced.
Wigan head coach, Shaun Wane, said: “Zak is an outstanding competitor and a hugely talented individual who will understand the culture at our Club. He is the opposition name who, when we preview his team, is always the main danger. Now he is one on our team and that is pleasing for everyone involved.
“His early return to training will assist his transition back into the sport but he will not be not be available to play in the 2018 Super League season.”
Hardaker started his career at Featherstone before making more than 150 appearances for Leeds.
He spent time on loan with Penrith in the NRL and then moved to Castleford, first on loan and then permanently.
Controversy has followed him around during his career, including his withdrawal from England’s 2013 World Cup squad for which he received a fine and written warning from then club Leeds for “acting unprofessinally”.
He was handed a five-match ban in 2014 for making homophobic comments that appeared to be directed towards referee James Child, and in 2015 he admitted to the assault of a student, though didn’t face criminal charges.
Despite that, he has established himself as a stand-out player in Super League, winning the title three times with Leeds, and also winning two Challenge Cups, a World Club Challenge and two league leader’s shields.
He was Super League Man of Steel in 2015 and he fills the void left at Wigan by Sam Tomkins, who this week revealed he will join Catalans Dragons from 2019.