Wigan's Hock faces long ban after positive test for cocaine

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The Independent Online

The Rugby League's anti-drug campaign has claimed its highest- profile victim with Wigan's international second-rower Gareth Hock testing positive for cocaine. Hock, 25, who played for England in Paris 10 days ago is facing a two-year ban if a second sample gives the same result.

Wigan yesterday took the unusual step of issuing a statement before the outcome of that test is known. It confirmed that Hock was under provisional suspension and said that the club "joins with the RFL and UK Sport in deploring and condemning the use of drugs in sport, including so-called recreational drugs".

Hock returned a positive sample after Wigan's Super League game against Salford on 5 June, but Wigan were only informed of the result on Monday. The news is a major blow to both club and country. Despite occasional bouts of indiscipline on and off the field – including a five-match ban last season for grabbing a referee – Hock has been one of Wigan's outstanding performers since his debut in 2003. He has four Great Britain caps and has also been a first-choice forward for Tony Smith since he became the England coach, playing in last autumn's World Cup and being earmarked for an important role in the Four Nations at the end of this season.

The RFL insists that it takes a "robust" approach to drug abuse. Since 2005, UK Sport has carried out 1,922 tests on players – a higher number than for any sport apart from football and athletics – and produced only 20 positive results. A number of players, mainly from lower divisions, have been given two-year suspensions for taking drugs, both performance-enhancing and recreational.

Last month England named a 17-man elite training squad who have to be available for drug testing at any hour of the day or night. Hock was not one of the players nominated.

Hock's catastrophe is another marker in rugby league's worst season for bad publicity. On both sides of the world headlines have been made not by the rugby, but by sex and drugs and fists and boots.

Two Great Britain internationals, Leon Pryce and Stuart Reardon, recently avoided jail after pleading guilty to serious assault charges. Hull KR's Ben Cockayne has just returned to playing after serving a community service order for his assault conviction.

This week in Australia, the Catalan Dragons' captain, Greg Bird, has been sentenced to 16 months for glassing his girlfriend and the Sydney Roosters' coach, Brad Fittler, has fined himself A$10,000 (£4,833) for his drunken meanderings around a motel, but by far the most column inches have been devoted to the former Wigan player Matthew Johns and his role in a gang-sex session when with Cronulla.

Meanwhile, Leeds have signed Ryan Smith, the younger brother of Lee Smith who has confirmed that he is switching codes and joining Wasps on a four-year contract. The Australian centre, Matt Gidley, has agreed a one-year contract extension at St Helens.

Bradford will be without their second-rower, Glenn Morrison, for up to six weeks with a cracked rib, suffered in his second game back after a fractured wrist.

Castleford have announced that they are freezing their ticket prices for next season.

The London Skolars coach, Callum Irving, has resigned for personal reasons. The Skolars have won just one game this season and are next to bottom of Championship 1.

White lines: Cocaine in sport

Richard Gasquet

The French tennis player faces an ongoing inquiry into a positive drugs test. Despite protesting his innocence, Gasquet faces a potential two-year ban.

Matt Stevens

The Bath and England prop is currently serving a two-year ban after testing positive last December, while his former team-mates Michael Lipman, Alex Crockett, Andrew Higgins terminated their contracts on 1 June amid allegations they refused tests. They, alongside the retired Justin Harrison, have been summoned by an RFU disciplinary panel to explain the reports.

Chris Lewis

The former England cricketer was sentenced to 13 years in prison last month after smuggling £140,000 of liquid cocaine into Britain.

Tom Boonen

The 28-year-old Belgian cyclist was faces the prospect of a six-month ban after testing positive for cocaine for a second time.