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Great Britain must try to win the Gillette Tri-Nations Series without new captain Paul Sculthorpe after he was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
The St Helens loose forward, who took over the captaincy following Andy Farrell?s switch to rugby union earlier this year, will undergo major surgery this week after scans revealed the injury to be more serious than first thought.
Bradford second rower Jamie Peacock, the new Great Britain vice-captain, is expected to take over the leadership for the Tri-Nations, in which Britain?s first match is against New Zealand on October 29.
Sculthorpe, who made 27 appearances for Saints in 2004, has been plagued by injuries this season and restricted to just 16 appearances for his club.
Dr Simon Roberts, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, said: "Since Paul?s last scan in May, the joint has noticeably deteriorated. The operation, which will seek to reconstruct the lining of the joint, will be undertaken this week.
"While we expect Paul to make a full recovery, it is necessary for there to be a long recovery period while the lining grows back, and he is therefore only expected to regain full fitness in time for the start of the 2006 season."
Saints coach Daniel Anderson said: "Obviously we are very disappointed to lose a player of his calibre at such a crucial part of the season.
"However, injuries are a natural consequence of sport, and rugby league is very much a squad game. At St Helens we do have a strong squad and I have complete confidence that the players will take on the added responsibility and I will be looking for the team to share his workload.
"Paul is an integral part of the club?s long-term planning and we want him to be in the best possible condition to ensure that he can continue to play for the Saints and Great Britain for years to come."
Sculthorpe, twice a winner of the prestigious Super League Man of Steel award, scored his 1,000th point for St Helens earlier this season and became only the fourth player in the club?s history to score 100 tries and 100 goals.
Sculthorpe is the third withdrawal from coach Brian Noble?s initial 40-strong squad and the certainly most serious.
Wigan full-back Kris Radlinski, who was absent for last year?s Tri-Nations Series, has also been ruled out for the rest of the season in order to have knee surgery while Hull prop Paul King has told Noble he needs to have a wrist operation at the end of his club?s Super League campaign.
The latest blow will be offset to some extent by the splendid form of Leeds loose forward Kevin Sinfield, who was a surprise omission from last year?s squad but certain to be included in the final 25-man party.
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Thanks to www.superleague.co.uk for this news.