England coach Steve McNamara left red faced after exiled Zak Hardaker is fined by Leeds Rhinos for breach of discipline

Hardaker withdrew from England's Rugby League World Cup squad due to 'personal reasons' but his club have lift the lid on the matter after McNamara refused to elaborate

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The Independent Online

England's off-field World Cup dramas showed little sign of abating after their attempt to cover up the latest breach of discipline blew up in the face of coach Steve McNamara.

McNamara expelled Gareth Hock and suspended James Graham without offering a satisfactory explanation for either bombshell decision and, if he hoped the Zak Hardaker affair would quietly go away after the Leeds player withdrew from the World Cup squad, he was badly mistaken.

After initially putting Hardaker's absence from last Saturday's match against Ireland down to illness, England claimed the 22-year-old's decision to pull out was due to "personal issues" but Leeds blew the cover on Wednesday night by revealing they had punished their player for breaching the club's code of conduct.

The Rhinos conducted their own investigation into the circumstances behind Hardaker's withdrawal and promptly issued a no-nonsense statement condemning the player's behaviour.

Hardaker, who is thought to have broken the England squad's alcohol ban for a second time, was fined £2,500, given a written warning and told to report for pre-season training on November 25, five days before the World Cup final.

"We believe Zak acted unprofessionally and in doing so, breached the Leeds Rhinos player code of conduct," said Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington.

"We will continue to monitor Zak's future conduct and help him deal with his own issues; which are more to do with a lack of professionalism than anything else."

Unlike Hock, who went on television to defend his actions and implicate others in a Saturday night drinking session, Hardaker was contrite in a statement issued through his club.

"I am sorry for any embarrassment I have caused and my focus now is on moving forward next season and putting these events behind me," Hardaker said.

"I would like to wish (Leeds and England captain) Kevin (Sinfield) and the England team the best of luck for the rest of the tournament and I am looking forward to the start of pre-season with the Rhinos."

The latest unsavoury episode has overshadowed the build-up to England's final Group A match against Fiji in Hull on Saturday which will determine the runners-up spot.

McNamara, no doubt desperately hoping for an end to the distractions, was on Thursday afternoon set to announce his 19-man squad and will make at least one change to the team that beat Ireland 42-0 assured following Sam Burgess' completion of a one-match ban.