Coach McNamara happy that his England squad is unified after off-field distractions

ENGLAND coach Steve McNamara insists he is happy with the way in which the Zak Hardaker issue has been handled and maintains it has not disrupted his squad.

England's Kevin Sinfield during the captains run at the KC Stadium, Hull.

They will look to secure runners-up spot in Group A with victory over Fiji at Hull FC’s KC Stadium today and set up a World Cup quarter-final against either France or Samoa.

However, for the third week running there has been off-field disciplinary problems to deal with in the England camp.

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McNamara has come in for criticism for the manner in which he has dealt with such issues, particularly surrounding Leeds Rhinos full-back Hardaker.

When asked by the BBC a week ago about the player’s alleged involvement in a drinking incident, the coach initially said he was absent from the game at Huddersfield due to illness before accusing the media of “making things up to try and disrupt my squad”.

On Monday, England announced the 22-year-old had asked to withdraw from their squad – and duly given permission – because of “personal issues.”

However, just two days later, Leeds released their own statement revealing their player had been in breach of the club’s code of conduct, been fined £2,500 and given a written warning over his behaviour.

The club said it would help Hardaker deal with his own issues but added the caveat “which are more to do with a lack of professionalism than anything else.”

The West Yorkshire club, clearly, acted more decisively and openly than the England camp but McNamara – who had already sent Gareth Hock home for a disciplinary breach before the tournament – is adamant the matter was handled correctly.

“We have worked closely in conjunction with Leeds,” he said, before adding it has not caused undue disruptions with his squad reduced to 23 players.

“I said earlier in the week that, as a coach you have to deal with various situations, whatever arise. That’s been dealt with.

“Zak unfortunately couldn’t reach the standards that were set within the group. In conjunction with Leeds, the matter has been dealt with.”

England captain Kevin Sinfield, meanwhile, is expecting a brutal clash against the Fijians who have impressed so far.

“We know they’ll be physical, very much so,” said the Leeds stand-off.

“Physicality is something we’ve worked on a bit this week as you can see from my lug...

“We’ve got a great, big side ourselves though that can be very physical when it wants to be and hopefully you’ll see that on Saturday.

“Fiji have threats across the board, but we have as well and it should be a cracking game.”

Sinfield added: “We like playing in Hull at the KC.

“It’s a great stadium and I know how hostile it can be here with your club, but certainly with our country the fans here have been fantastic.

“When the stadium is near to full – as it will be – it is really bouncing and hopefully with 20-odd thousand fans that will spur us on.

“We’ve been out and trained on a pitch which is in great nick today and we’re looking forward to the game itself.”

n Sam Burgess: Page 6.