Dave Craven: Despite their problems, hosts can still end wait for success

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THERE wasn’t much mention of his “personal issues” in Zak Hardaker’s apology was there?

It appears all he has suffered from is a little stupidity. Not once, but twice.

And, rather than England coach Steve McNamara suffer the embarrassment of having to kick a second player out of his World Cup squad, the Leeds Rhinos full-back fell on his sword. Sort of.

It is hard who to be more annoyed at – the player or coach.

Hardaker is someone who, at the age of 22, is a vastly-talented and special player who could go as high as he wants in the game – if he can control his off-field behaviour.

As likeable as they come, he does clearly have to start showing some maturity. But didn’t we all at that age? Hopefully, he will learn from this. He has to. Three strikes and you are out.

Admittedly, he might not have got much game time in this World Cup due to a certain Sam Tomkins and it would be easy to grow frustrated in camp.

But his chance would, no doubt, have come eventually and why blot your copybook so soon 
after already being reprimanded?

McNamara, meanwhile, had gained plenty of respect for the firm manner in which he dealt with Gareth Hock’s antics prior to the tournament commencing.

It would have been so easy to turn a blind eye to that player’s behaviour – ignoring an alcohol ban and then missing a recovery session – or just rap him over the knuckles given he would almost certainly have been a starter in his team to face Australia.

But the coach put his foot down by sending him home and made it clear to everyone – Hardaker included who was apparently on that night out too – that he would be no push over.

However, McNamara has perhaps lost some credit for the way he has dealt with matters since.

Of course, you can see why he would want to protect his players. It is part of a coach’s job.

But these players are, let’s not forget, ones who have let him down badly.

There was a perfect opportunity to deal with the first set of problems at that now infamous Cardiff press conference.

All McNamara had to do was admit that James Graham had been left out for breaching team discipline and had been given a one-match ban, but would return the following week.

He could have named the other players too and that would have been the end of it.

But by refusing to explain why he had left out one of his top players and then abruptly walking out of the press conference himself, it was only ever going to whip up a frenzy on all levels. Similarly, it was churlish – bizarre, even – for McNamara to accuse the media of making stories up to disrupt his squad when asked about Hardaker by the BBC before the Ireland game.

At that point on Saturday, he would have known full well all the circumstances surrounding Hardaker’s non-appearance and, indeed, that he would be leaving the squad one way or another come Monday.

Clearly, the only people battling to disrupt his squad are those players who have failed to adhere to his rules and – in the case of Hardaker – not once, but twice.

Management is not a science; there is no exact formula and, as McNamara is fast discovering, for all the planning in the world, essentially it can all be undone by a few errant individuals.

That said, nothing is actually undone yet. England got the win that was demanded against Ireland and are expected to secure a last-eight spot with victory over Fiji tomorrow.

There is no reason why they cannot go on and win the World Cup despite this backdrop.

The loss of Hock and Hardaker is far from catastrophic and McNamara has the players to truly challenge.

If they do go on and end this long wait for success he could certainly deliver the proverbial two fingers to everyone who has tried disrupting them.

But it should be aimed at people a lot closer to home than the media.