LUKE GALE admits there should no longer be any question marks about England’s creativity given the sheer number of options available to head coach Wayne Bennett ahead of Saturday’s Ladbrokes Four Nations opener.
The Castleford Tigers No 7 is one of four half-backs – five if you include Warrington Wolves’ vastly-talented utility Stefan Ratchford – battling for a spot in the side to face New Zealand.
For so many years there has been criticism about the perceived dearth of genuine playmaking ability in that position, with craft and stellar kicking too often missing from the national side’s repertoire when needed the most.
However, currently there is real competition and it will be intriguing to see who Bennett will plump for at Huddersfield.
St George Illawarra’s co-captain Gareth Widdop is expected to be named at stand-off but Gale – who started alongside the Halifax-born former Melbourne Storm star during Saturday’s warm-up win in France – Widnes Vikings’ Kevin Brown and Wigan Warriors’ George Williams are all vying to partner him.
Brown, the former Huddersfield Giants captain making his first international appearance in six years, impressed off the bench in Avignon while Williams was rested but did play two of the three Tests in the series win over the Kiwis 12 months ago.
With his pace and running game, 21-year-old Williams, fresh from helping Wigan win the Grand Final, is a more direct threat but Gale – who gained more try assists than any other player in Super League this term – and Brown have more deft tools to unlock defences with their passing and kicking quality.
“There is a lot of creativity around,” Gale told The Yorkshire Post.
“We’ve four half-backs and we’ve all had good years. There’ll be plenty of confidence knocking about; we’re all a bit different, all have different qualities and I’m sure working with Wayne, Bettsy (Denis Betts) and the other guys will get the best out of each other.
“I’m looking forward to the next few weeks alongside everyone and putting it to use.”
Asked if he was nervous now waiting to see if he would get the nod, Gale – who made his debut against France having been an unused member of Steve McNamara’s squad last year – said: “You just keep practising at training, listening at videos, watching and doing everything you can.
“I think they’ll pick the team pretty soon. I’m not sure what he (Bennett) is thinking yet – it’s hard to predict, to be honest – but it’s a really good environment, all the boys help each other and whoever gets the nod will do a great job.”
Having finally made his Test debut at the age of 28, though, Dream Team member Gale is keen to make up for lost time.
The former Bradford Bulls captain, who came through the academy of hometown Leeds Rhinos but made his professional debut for Doncaster and then thrived with London, hopes to earn Bennett’s trust.
If selected, he will be up against Shaun Johnson, the brilliant Kiwi who broke England hearts with his match-winning try just 20 seconds from the end of the 2013 World Cup semi-final at Wembley.
Gale, who trained with England at Hunslet’s South Leeds Stadium yesterday, just a mile or so from where he first started the game for Middleton Marauders ARLFC, said: “I wasn’t there – I was probably on holiday somewhere – but can remember it quite vividly.
“Johnson has great footwork hasn’t he and we’re hoping not for that on Saturday.
“They’ve him and Thomas Leuluai – both great, international players – and a big set of forwards getting them on the front foot.
“I think it will be a great battle. I’m looking forward to our forwards mixing it with theirs. It’s going to be great, in front of a packed stadium at Huddersfield and sure to be a spectacle.”
In Bennett’s first game in charge, England eventually eased to a 40-6 win against France last week with a performance that left onlookers quietly encouraged that they have a genuine chance of winning a major international event for the first time since Great Britain’s 1972 World Cup triumph.
Gale, who joined Castleford two years ago, admitted: “I really enjoyed it. It was a proud moment for myself to pull on the England jersey for the first time.
“The boys went really well, impressed, completed high, did all the right things.
“The one try (conceded) is pretty disappointing, but apart from that we were happy.
“France probably played better than anyone gave them credit for.
“They were fighting after about four minutes so we knew they had come to put themselves about a bit in their own backyard.
“I thought it was an adequate test for us and we handled it really well. Now we look forward to the Four Nations.”
Bennett will name his side publicly tomorrow afternoon as England look for the win that would instantly put them on course for the November 20 final at Anfield.