Leeds Rhinos and England star Zak Hardaker promises to learn from his mistakes as he is handed five-match ban for homophobically abusing a referee

Hardaker has found himself in the headlines for the wrong reasons for the second time in seven months following World Cup axe last year and has apologised for his latest remarks

Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker has vowed to mend his reputation for the second time in seven months after being found guilty of homophobically abusing a referee.

An independent Rugby Football League tribunal imposed a five-match suspension on the 22-year-old England international for making the offensive comments during the Rhinos' 24-6 Super League defeat at Warrington 12 days ago.

Hardaker, who last week issued a public apology, admitted the offence when he appeared in front of the tribunal but claimed his remarks were aimed at Warrington captain Michael Monaghan rather than referee James Child and that he was unaware of their connotations.

The tribunal accepted the player is not homophobic but were satisfied that the remarks were made to the match official.

Hardaker was also fined £300 but the punishment could have been worse. The grade E charge he faced carries a ban of between four and eight matches.

An RFL spokesman said: "In handing down a five-match ban and £300 fine, the tribunal took into consideration the player's contrition, his guilty plea and evidence that he is undertaking voluntary work within the LGBT community."

Hardaker hit the headlines last November when he was thrown out of England's World Cup squad for a breach of discipline and was subsequently given a £2,500 fine and a warning by his club.

The player responded with a series of impressive displays that earned him a recall to the England squad, although it is not known whether his suspension will affect his appearance at a mid-season training get-together in Loughborough this weekend.

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.

"Firstly, I would like to once again say sorry for any offence my comments during the Warrington game have caused," he said in a statement posted on the club website.

"I maintain that I did not say the remark to referee James Child, however I know that I made a mistake and it does not matter who I directed the comment at, as it still causes offence to those who saw or heard it.

"I will accept the findings of the disciplinary panel and will look to put this experience to good use in terms of my professional and personal development.

"I would also like to thank all those who have shown faith in me and offered to help me, in particular Martin Owens from the Canalsiders amateur club, and hopefully the issues raised in this case will make everyone, players, officials and supporters alike more aware of the harm their words can cause."

PA

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