Sean O’Loughlin has been ruled out of Great Britain’s upcoming tour and may have played his last international.
The Wigan and England loose forward, who turns 37 in November, was in coach Wayne Bennett’s initial Lions squad and was expected to lead the team in their Test matches against Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
However, the Rugby Football League says that, after missing much of the 2019 season with a pectoral injury, it was agreed following talks with Bennett that his best interests would be served with a full off-season at home.
O’Loughlin becomes the second high-profile withdrawal from the 24-man squad that will be announced on Monday after Sam Burgess pulled out with a shoulder injury and that looks set to pave the way for James Graham to take over the captaincy.
Kevin Sinfield, the RFL’s director of rugby, said: “Lockers has made an outstanding contribution to the national team over the last 15 years and has led from the front as England captain.
“He has been integral to the squad’s improvements and influenced so many, especially since we introduced the England Performance Unit after the 2017 World Cup.
“He has had a difficult year with injuries and he will be sorely missed in 2019 but his influence will remain.
“Both Wayne Bennett and Sean discussed and agreed that it was best for him to miss the tour this year.”
O’Loughlin had targeted a return to Great Britain colours on the first Lions tour since 2006 as the perfect way to round off his international career, having earned 11 caps in the red and blue V from 2004 to 2007 before winning an additional 25 caps for England.
He has not yet signed a contract with Wigan for 2020, although he has stated his eagerness to continue.
Bennett said: “I’ve admired Sean O’Loughlin as a player for a long time and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with him with England.
“He’s been an outstanding leader of the team on and off the field, with the ability to play in any position and his combination of skill and toughness.
“It was important that I spoke to him and we agreed on an outcome and hopefully it will help him come back fresh next season.”
The RFL has also confirmed the withdrawal of St Helens winger Tom Makinson, who dislocated his right shoulder in Saturday’s Grand Final win over Salford.
That could open the door for Leeds winger Ash Handley, who is one of four players on stand-by in the England squad which flew to Sydney on Saturday for the World Cup Nines.
Britain also have a doubt over veteran hooker James Roby, who has been dogged for much of the season by a groin injury and failed to finish Saturday’s game at Old Trafford.
“I’ve been struggling a bit on and off this year,” Roby said. “I suppose it’s just a bit of wear and tear over the years.
“This team has carried me through and I suppose I’ve got to start maybe prioritising my health over a few more caps – if that’s possible.
“I wouldn’t bet on being selected this year, Daz Clark has had a great year and there’s Josh Hodgson over there with Canberra doing so well. We’ll just have to wait and see.”