Gareth Hock was drugs tested on June 5th 2009 after a match in which Wigan had beaten Salford. He played for England against France a week later but the trip to Paris was to be his last outing in an England jersey for over three years, after he tested positive for cocaine.
On various rugby forums keyboard warriors across the country registered their disgust that Hock had not been sacked from Wigan as a result of the ban. Last year, when the ban was up, Wigan extended his contract until 2015, a decision which stirred up more emotion among fans. Here, for example, are just a couple of the reactions Google threw up on the subject: ‘DRUGGIES IN SPORT SHOULD BE BANNED FOR LIFE!’ and, ‘Eng player Gareth Hock, coming off a 2 year cocaine ban, gets handed a FIVE YEAR deal by Wigan. Recklessly stupid!’
Needless to say, there was very little opposition to the decision. The public were abhorring and there were no Lance Armstrong-esque cries of injustice. After all, it wasn't a performance enhancing drug that Hock had indulged in, it was a recreational class A drug. Hock was in the wrong.
I, like the vast majority of sports fans, do not condone drug use in sport. At the time of the ban, I remember reading about it and just thinking why? Why would anyone in professional sport dabble in class A drugs? Doing drugs isn't a great idea to start with but when you know that drugs testing exists as part of your livelihood it's probably best not to risk it, is it?
That being said, I think Gareth Hock has executed a marvellous comeback. When he returned to the Wigan fold to start training this time last year, it was evident how his time off had been spent. He was what you might call a 'big unit' before the ban but when he came back he was absolutely ripped.
It would have been easy for him to have strayed off the rugby league path during the doping ban, but he didn't and that must have taken some dedication. He clearly spent his time working hard to get back into a Wigan side where a lot had changed - they had a new, much more strict coach in Michael Maguire - and when he had done his time, Hock was welcomed back into the new regime.
Not only did he get back into his old side, where contention in his position was fierce, but he waited patiently on the sidelines for second row Ryan Hoffman to exit before he became a permanent feature. Such was his impact this season that he was selected for England again and, better yet, scored on his return against the Exiles on Saturday.
Of course, Hock is by no means perfect and his 'enthusiasm' has, at times since his return, been costly. Last season he effectively ruined his chances of England selection for the four nations when he was handed a five match ban for gouging and just a couple of weeks ago he was banned for his involvement in a brawl at the Magic Weekend.
In spite of that, I admire Gareth Hock because he spent his two years penance with nothing on his mind but returning to rugby league. Some people, understandably, do not believe he's a good role model - when his name was announced before the England game on Saturday there were boos from the crowd - but I think his determination is to be admired.
If 'druggies in sport' were to be banned for life there would be a lot of valuable life lessons conveniently omitted from those who look at troubled stars as role models. The message would be that if you do one exceptionally stupid thing, you won't be given a second chance.
Gareth Hock was reported as saying that he'd been given a second chance in the England side and he was. That's a good life message for anyone. Everyone needs redemption at some point and Hock has absolutely grabbed his with both hands. He is an exceptional player with exceptional determination and I, for one, think that the aggression and ferocity he channels into his rugby - although it does occasionally land him in trouble - is something that the England team, and Wigan, would suffer without.
You can follow Beth Ashton on Twitter: @BethAshton