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England cagey over Graham RLWC axing

Cagey England rugby league coach Steve McNamara has refused to detail the reason for James Graham's surprise omission from the squad to face Australia in Saturday's World Cup opener.
England cagey over Graham RLWC axing
by AAP

By Liam FitzGibbon

CARDIFF, Oct 25 AAP - Cagey England rugby league coach Steve McNamara has refused to detail the reason for James Graham's surprise omission from the squad to face Australia in Saturday's World Cup opener.

The Canterbury enforcer, one of England's star forwards, will not face the Kangaroos at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium after being left out of a 19-man squad.

It is believed Graham was stood down for disciplinary reasons, with reports he was involved in the drinking session which led to Gareth Hock's expulsion from the tournament.

In a tense press conference in Wales on Friday, McNamara refused to discuss the decision to omit Graham and threatened several times to cut the interview short.

"There's seven very good players not playing this week," McNamara said when asked to clarify the decision.

"There are 17 that will play and there's another seven international standard players who are in the squad who aren't picked, so I'm not going to talk about any individual players.

"Those seven are all great players, great people and I'm sure they'll get to play a part in the rest of the tournament."

Pressed further on the issue, McNamara became agitated.

"Look, I just said I'm not going to talk about any individuals," the coach said.

"I'm not going to answer any more questions on it and if you want to continue asking questions on it then we'll wrap it up now. If you want to talk about the game, we're fine to do so."

McNamara eventually called time on the press conference when asked if Hock's exclusion from the squad was also off-limits.

"Of course it is. I've got to go anyway boys because the bus is going. See you tomorrow," he said.

England named a 19-man squad for the match and McNamara would not reveal who would be in his final 17 for the match.

All three Burgess brothers were in the squad, with Sam and George set to play though Tom is unlikely to make the final cut.

George and Tom are two of four uncapped players alongside Wigan backrower Liam Farrell and Huddersfield Giants forward Brett Ferres, a late replacement for Hock.

Hock, who failed to turn up for a swimming session on Sunday after sleeping in, claimed in a BBC interview on Wednesday that he was one of "six or seven" players who broke the seven-day alcohol ban in the wake of England's shock defeat by Italy at Salford on Saturday.

Complaining that he had been made a scapegoat, Hock claimed that McNamara had told him that the other players involved in the breach of rules would also be disciplined.

McNamara was asked whether the squad had let him down in the lead-up to the tournament.

"I think the world of that squad, every single one of them and they'll all play a part during the World Cup," he said.

The coach was confident his team would bounce back strongly from a shock defeat to Italy in a pre-tournament warm-up match, describing the reaction of his players as "determined."


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