Zak Hardaker: Castleford Tigers drop full-back for Grand Final over 'breach of club rules'

Zak Hardaker
Zak Hardaker was one of three nominees for the 2017 Steve Prescott Man of Steel award
Super League Grand Final
Venue: Old Trafford Date: Saturday, 7 October Kick-off: 18:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live & BBC Radio Leeds; text coverage on BBC Sport website and app; watch highlights on Sunday on BBC Two at 17:00 BST

Castleford Tigers have left full-back Zak Hardaker out of their squad for Saturday's Grand Final against Leeds following a "breach of club rules".

England international Hardaker, 25, has been one of the stand-out players in 2017, scoring 13 tries in 30 games to help the Tigers to the Grand Final.

That form led to his nomination for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel, an award won by team-mate Luke Gale.

"The club will make no further comment," said a Tigers statement.

The decision to drop Hardaker comes on the cusp of Castleford's first Grand Final appearance, and at the end of a season in which he played a key role in the League Leaders' Shield win.

His brilliance on the pitch - culminating in three Grand Final triumphs, a Challenge Cup winner's medal and the 2015 Man of Steel prize while with Leeds - has been counter-balanced by off-field problems.

He missed out on the 2013 World Cup and was fined by Rhinos after he "acted unprofessionally", before going on an anger management course following an incident in Leeds during the 2015 season.

Hardaker joined Castleford on an initial loan deal for 2017 that was later made permanent, after a stint in Australia with Penrith Panthers.

That brought his six-year spell at Leeds to an end and reunited Hardaker with head coach Daryl Powell, who gave him his break at Featherstone Rovers.

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Hardaker's 'eye-catching' solo try for Castleford

Analysis

BBC rugby league correspondent Dave Woods

The nature of Hardaker's breach of club discipline has not been officially revealed - and won't be until after Saturday's Grand Final - but it is likely to also cost him a place in England's World Cup squad, which will be announced on Monday.

He had trained with Castleford up until Wednesday, though the incident is believed to have happened several weeks ago and away from the club.

Hardaker has been no stranger to disciplinary issues in his career. He missed out a place in the 2013 World Cup because of a breach of team discipline and was effectively pushed out by Leeds after a number of incidents.

He was given a five-match ban for on-field homophobic abuse in 2014 and paid £200 compensation to the victim of an assault in Leeds in 2015.

Grand Final team news

Castleford bring in back-rower Oliver Holmes and utility back Jy Hitchcox, who could come into the side for Hardaker.

The other player to be left out for the Tigers is retiring prop Andy Lynch, meaning he misses out on the chance to become the oldest Grand Finalist in history at 37 years and 352 days.

Leeds Rhinos have had back-rower Stevie Ward cleared to play after he was named in their 19-man squad, despite dislocating a shoulder in Friday's semi-final win against Hull FC.

His inclusion means Leeds have the same squad as they went with for the semi-final.

Castleford Tigers (from): Cook, Eden, Foster, Gale, Hitchcox, Holmes, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Moors, Monaghan, Roberts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Springer, Webster.

Leeds Rhinos (from): Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Ward, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Garbutt, Keinhorst, Ferres, Mullally, Walker.

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