Castleford ace was in 24-man England squad until he tested positive for cocaine
ZAK HARDAKER’S stupidity has robbed England of a major threat in their bid to win the World Cup, admits England coach Wayne Bennett.
The Castleford man is facing a two-year suspension after testing positive for cocaine.
Hardaker was axed from the Tigers’ Grand Final squad when the results came back just two days before the Old Trafford clash against Leeds.
And Bennett has admitted Hardaker was in his 24-man World Cup squad until the news came through, forcing a late change to his line-up.
The Aussie also concedes he is without a top talent, who played at centre in May’s mid-season win over Samoa.
He said: “Zak’s a very good player and he played some great rugby over the year but that’s life, it happens with players unavailable for different reasons.
“He wasn’t available so we had to move on. He was in the squad, so of course he forced a last minute rethink.”
Bennett was without St Helens prop Alex Walmsley, who missed Tuesday’s training session with a virus.
However, the man who did not create a good impression last year with some cringeworthy TV interviews was good natured and talkative ahead of England’s World Cup opener, even joking that he had not been scarred by previous losses to the Aussies as he has no marks on his arms.
Jonny Lomax is set to face Australia on Friday as things have taken a huge step forward since last year’s Four Nations, Mike McMeeken, George Williams and Stefan Ratchford will definitely miss out after not making the 21-man squad.
And like he has said before, it is the self-destruct button that has cost England so many times that his players have to avoid, which they did not do when they surrendered meekly to the Aussies in London last year.
Bennett added: “I think we’re much further ahead.
“They’ve been with me 12 months now and I’ve been with them so we all know each other and we’ve come out for the Samoa Test. There’s much better understanding and acceptance of what we need to do.
“The thing for us will be whether when we get put under pressure we make unforced errors which we did last time we played.
“There’s nothing else we have to fear. We can match them in so many areas, we just have to make sure we don’t put ourselves under pressure.
“If we go back to the Australia game, we had two opportunities to kick the ball out from tap penalties and we didn’t do that.
“That’s about as demoralising a situation as you can put a team in. All of a sudden you’ve got the opportunity to have good ball going into a set, then all of a sudden you’re defending that kick and they scored a try off the back of one of those kicks.”
“They’re habits. We’re all creatures of habit, good and bad habits. Some of them need to learn a little bit of good habits.
“The other night against the Affiliated States, we had an NRL referee and gave away three or four penalties. That’s great, that’s what I want. We can’t give 10 away. We can’t do things that are going to put us in that situation.
“Going back to the Australia game, we put great pressure on their kicker, but we tackled him high. It just kills you, that stuff.”
PROBABLE ENGLAND TEAM TO FACE AUSTRALIA
Jonny Lomax; Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, John Bateman, Ryan
Hall; Gareth Widdop, Luke Gale; Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, James
Graham, Sam Burgess, Elliott Whitehead, Sean O’Loughlin. Interchange:
James Roby, Tom Burgess, Chris Heighington, Alex Walmsley