Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker has left England’s World Cup squad because of what are described as “personal issues,” in the latest blow to Steve McNamara’s squad system.
Hardaker was widely rumoured at the weekend, particularly on social media, to have been caught breaking curfew and drinking for the second time during the tournament. That came after he was implicated in an earlier incident that led to two of his team-mates being disciplined.
He was notable by his absence from the last England game at Huddersfield on Saturday, with one official version of events being that he was ill.
McNamara, the England coach, became angry when questioned about the player, denied that anyone was leaving the squad, and complained that stories were being manufactured mischievously in order to undermine the team.
A statement on Monday night demonstrated that there was plenty of substance in the rumours that all was not well once more. England Rugby League said: “Due to personal issues, Zak Hardaker is unable to commit to the England Rugby League programme and has informed the England RL management team that he wishes to withdraw from the squad and will play no further part in Rugby League World Cup 2013. No replacement has been called up.
“England Rugby League will work with Zak’s club, Leeds Rhinos, to support him at this time.”
Wouldn’t McNamara have been better telling the truth rather than accusing the media of trying to unsettle the England camp?
Hardaker’s departure comes after the expulsion of Gareth Hock before the start of the World Cup, for breaking curfew and missing training, and the dropping of James Graham for the opening game of the tournament against Australia at Cardiff.
Graham was reinstated for the victory over Ireland on Saturday. Hock was replaced in the squad by Brett Ferres before the competition started and he has become an integral part of the team.
England would have been most unlikely to be able to replace Hardaker, however. Samoa applied for permission to bring in the St Helens pair Tony Puletua and Francis Meli to cover for injuries after the tournament had began, and they were refused. It leaves England badly short of full-back cover if anything were to happen to Sam Tomkins.
The loss, at various times, of three players from a 24-man squad through off-field concerns makes something of a mockery of McNamara’s frequent contention that this is the best prepared England team ever.
On the contrary, it seems to have all the behaviour problems that have sporadically troubled tours and tournament, but which were supposed to be a thing of the past in this era of full-time professionalism.
Then there is the issue of the ham-fisted way McNamara has dealt with questions when word has leaked out, as it inevitably will.
England have said that they will make no further comment, while Hardaker has asked for his privacy to be respected.
Another mess, badly handled.