Zak Hardaker is facing an uncertain future after being dropped by his club and discarded by his country following his failed drugs test.

The 25-year-old former Super League Man of Steel, who was axed by Castleford on the eve of Saturday’s Grand Final defeat by Leeds, was excluded from England’s World Cup squad after testing positive for cocaine.

The former Leeds full-back, who was tested after the Tigers’ Super 8s fixture with his old club on September 8, became the third Super League player to be pinpointed for cocaine use in the last three months after Rangi Chase (Widnes) and Adam Walker (Wakefield).

Castleford acted after receiving notification of the failed test from UK Anti-Doping, who have yet to impose any sanctions in any of the cases although a two-year ban appears likely.

Wigan stood by another England international, Gareth Hock, after he was handed a two-year ban in 2009 for cocaine use but Castleford will almost certainly wait until the case has run its course before revealing whether they will do likewise.

The Tigers paid a £150,000 transfer fee to Leeds only in June when they made Hardaker’s move permanent and the player still has four years left on his contract.

Hardaker expressed his remorse in a statement released through his club which said: “I would like to apologise to my Castleford Tigers team-mates, the staff and all fans for my enormous error of judgement.

“I was given an opportunity by this great club and in what has been one of the most important weeks in its history, I have let everyone at the club down. For that, I truly apologise.”

Hardaker, who was thrown out of the England camp during the last World Cup in 2013, was assured of a trip to Australia after re-discovering his form in 2017 and his absence will now pave the way for St Helens full-back Jonny Lomax to reclaim the number one jersey.

Lomax, arguably England’s best performer in the 2016 Four Nations Series, missed the mid-season Test against Samoa through injury but got the nod ahead of Wigan’s Sam Tomkins. 

The 17 Super League-based players will fly out of Manchester on Thursday and join up with their seven NRL colleagues for a 10-day training camp in Perth, where they will play a warm-up match against an Affiliated States team on Friday, October 20 to prepare for their opening group game against holders Australia in Melbourne a week later.

England’s 24-man World Cup squad: J Bateman (Wigan), K Brown (Warrington), S Burgess (South Sydney), T Burgess (South Sydney), B Currie (Warrington), L Gale (Castleford), J Graham (St George Illawarra), R Hall (Leeds), C Heighington (Cronulla), C Hill (Warrington), J Hodgson (Canberra), J Lomax (St Helens), J McGillvary (Huddersfield), M McMeeken (Castleford), S O’Loughlin (Wigan, capt), M Percival (St Helens), S Ratchford (Warrington), J Roby (St Helens), S Taylor (Hull), A Walmsley (St Helens), K Watkins (Leeds), E Whitehead (Canberra), G Widdop (St George Illawarra), G Williams (Wigan).

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