Luke Gale talks injuries and the genius of Paul McShane.
Luke Gale joins us in the studio on Friday for Wigan's clash with Leeds, live on Sky Sports Arena and Mix from 7pm
By Tom Mordey
Last Updated: 07/02/19 8:18pm
2019 opened with a bang for Castleford as they saw off Challenge Cup holders Catalans with a 20-4 victory. But there's a key man sat on the sidelines watching on. And unfortunately for the Tigers, Luke Gale will be there for a while.
"Obviously it's slow at the minute. I'm in an air cast boot and I'm on crutches. I've got three more weeks left in this boot and then you can slowly start to progress."
Gale ruptured an Achilles tendon in January. Although he's started doing some rehabilitation this week, the injury will cost him most of 2019. He's not put a timescale on his return and says being fit for the end of the season would just be a bonus. The half-back has established himself as one of the competition's premier players.
He was the star turn in a Castleford side that dazzled in 2017, winning the Man of Steel award before the Tigers fell short at Old Trafford. Gale wore the number seven jersey during England's run to the World Cup final as well. But it's another unfortunate setback for a player who missed three months of 2018 with a fractured knee cap.
"It's a double whammy. From the highs of 2017 and reaching the Grand Final as well as picking up the Man of Steel award, it was back to earth with an almighty bang with the injury last season. And with this coming just as I was getting right, it's not been easy."
It is a disappointing time for Gale personally, but he was impressed with his team-mates' first outing this campaign in the win over the Dragons.
"The lads were outstanding. I thought we outmuscled Catalans, which is hard to do. I agree with Steve McNamara's comments after the game. We won the physical battle in the middle and were clinical when it came to try-scoring opportunities."
Paul McShane was the man of the match in that win. He was the Super League Dream Team hooker in 2018, but missed out on a place in the England squad for the series win over New Zealand. And Gale doesn't believe his team-mate gets enough recognition.
"What's hard for Paul is we've also got James Roby who's a great hooker, we've got Josh Hodgson in Australia and we've got Daryl Clark. I just think there's a rich vein of hookers at the minute. But Macca is a genius. He's an all-rounder. He's proved he can kick goals as well."
2018 didn't perhaps bring out the best in Castleford. The sensational rugby Daryl Powell's side produced the year before came out in elements, but the try count fell from 166 to 130 across the campaign. But they reached the Super League semi-final, before falling to Wigan in a tight game in the DW Stadium. So what's the target for 2019?
"We want to go one better. We've been the bridesmaids for the last couple of seasons and a lot's been made of the lack of signings. But we've kept the same team which is hard to do. New signings can take time to settle and the good thing with Castleford is, we've had this team for the last few years. The aim is third time lucky.
"I think 2017 is a bit of a one-off if I'm being honest. We had a group of men that were outstanding and it's one of those you don't realise until you retire it's a bit of a freakish year. To back that up would have been very tough. There's not many teams that can dominate in any sport year after year. Everyone expected us to go out every time we played and put 50 past teams. But 2018 showed we are genuine contenders and that's what we want to cement this season."
Gale's absence in 2019 heaps more pressure on to the shoulders of 19-year-old Jake Trueman. He turns 20 this month, but is one of the game's rising stars. His fellow half back is certainly impressed.
"He's a good a young player as I think I've ever come across. He's so laid back, he's almost horizontal, his temperament is great, his skill set is immense and he's old before his years. I think you'll see even more from him this year.
Trueman deputised in Gale's absence in 2018, landing the Super League Young Player of the Year award for his performances. The pair were expected to form a half-back partnership together for the new season. But that's all changed.
"With me being injured, he's taken on a role not many players his age would. He's the number one half-back at such a young age, but he's taken it all in his stride. I'd be gobsmacked if he didn't pull on the England jersey at some stage of his career. But he's a grounded kid and all the hype doesn't really get to him and that stands him in good stead."
'New beginnings' is the branding for Super League 2019. The shot clock received a positive reaction after the opening games, while Gale has personal golden point experience, kicking that drop goal in extra time to beat St Helens in 2017 and send Castleford through to Old Trafford. So what does he make of the changes?
"The rule changes have been great, the games were faster, more intense - you could see that. Rugby League in general, I think there's a buzz about it. The start of 2019 has been a massive positive for me. Everyone's wanting to watch Super League and I thought Round One was exceptional."
The slogan is designed to cover not just new rules changes, but a new wave of big names heading over from the NRL for the campaign ahead. So are they a positive?
"One hundred per cent. I think it makes it a better competition people wanting to come and play in Super League. Blake Austin I thought started great, he was everywhere. And Warrington have brought in Gaz Widdop for next year, what better signing could you have. It's a great advocate for the competition."
Gale was also impressed with London's opening round win over Wakefield. He played for Harlequins between 2009 and 2011 and admitted to being shocked by the performance of his former club on their return to Super League.
"It's great that London the capital have got a Super League team that can compete. I thought the tries they scored were fantastic. Danny Ward's a former teammate of mine, he's a great fella, he's a bit of a character and his press conference after the game was outstanding."
New beginnings then for Super League, but will 2019 be the year Castleford go one better? They might have to do the job without Gale, but their progress throughout the campaign will be fascinating to watch.
Luke Gale joins us in the studio on Friday for Wigan's clash with Leeds, live on Sky Sports Arena and Mix from 7pm.