England face a halfback crisis heading into the upcoming Test series with New Zealand after Luke Gale pulled out of the squad due to a knee injury.
TotalRL understands the Castleford halfback withdrew over the weekend due to an injury sustained in the Tigers’ play-off semi-final defeat to Wigan.
England’s coaching staff were informed several days ago and are due to name his replacement later this week.
It leaves Wayne Bennett without his three leading halfbacks from last year’s World Cup campaign, with Gareth Widdop also out injured while Kevin Brown has retired from international rugby.
Gale, last year’s Man of Steel, missed almost four months of the season with a fractured kneecap but returned to action in August. However, he has been struck down with another knee problem that will see him miss the Test series, which begins in less than three weeks time.
It is yet another blow ahead of the three-match series against the Kiwis, with several members of the squad who reached last year’s World Cup Final absent.
Kallum Watkins, Ryan Hall, Ben Currie, Alex Walmsley and James Roby will also miss the series while Sam Burgess pulled out last week to have shoulder and wrist surgery.
Five uncapped players have already been named in the 24-man squad, and Bennett could now be forced to blood more unproven players at international level during the Autumn series.
The likes of Jonny Lomax, Sam Tomkins, Stefan Ratchford and Jake Connor could all be slotted into the halves, but a recognised halfback is likely to be called up to help fill Gale’s absence.
The RFL are set to reveal who will replace Burgess in the squad on Tuesday.