NEW Castleford Tigers signing Luke Gale says he has never been fitter and, therefore, is in the best possible shape to make the England No 7 jersey his own.
The exciting scrum-half, long touted as a potential international, hopes finally to make the step up after joining last season’s success story from Bradford Bulls on a two year-deal.
Personal progress was tough last term with injuries and because he was often playing behind a struggling set of forwards as Bradford slipped to relegation.
But, at Castleford, the 26-year-old ex-Harlequin knows everything is set for him to flourish and not just impress Tigers chief Daryl Powell but national coach Steve McNamara, too.
“It is a great pack here,” Gale told The Yorkshire Post ahead of tomorrow’s friendly at another of his former clubs, Doncaster.
“We’ve still got a couple of forwards missing injured, but in the second half last weekend against Bulls it showed you that, once they’re on the front foot, poking their nose through, it gives you so much more extra space and time as a half- back.
“It’s something I’m definitely looking forward to here at Cas. The props – Grant Millington and Andy Lynch – each have a bit of play in them. They’re not straight up and down forwards, they like an off-load and Millo is like an extra stand-off at times. I definitely want to be challenging for England this year. You have to put yourself up for that.
“With the team we’ve got and this pack, if I keep knocking good games off week-in, week-out for Cas, hopefully it’ll catch Steve Mac’s eyes.
“I feel fitter, stronger and faster than ever and that I’m coming into my prime ready to show everyone what I can do.”
Gale first worked with Powell in the England Knights set-up and believes his game will improve further working with the ex-Great Britain stand-off and reigning Super League Coach of the Year on a daily basis.
“He’s a really thorough coach, very professional and has a good team around him with Danny Orr and Ryan Sheridan,” he added.
“Between them they have a lot of ball-playing skills either at 13, stand-off or scrum half so it’s a good team to work with.
“I’m 26 now, but I’m still learning every day and they tip you up where I’m going right and wrong.
“Probably the hardest thing when you come to a new club as a half-back is learning the different roles and the way the team wants to play.
“The most challenging bit is needing to know every single, key thing. But you pick it up the more you play and train and they give you the tools to go out and use them on the field.”
Gale will have stiff competition from Liam Finn, the Ireland captain who shone for Castleford last season after joining from part-timers Featherstone Rovers.
With ex-Kiwi stand-off Ben Roberts joining from Melbourne Storm, too, the beaten Challenge Cup finalists will not be short of creative options.
Gale said: “There’s such a good feeling here; it’s a real tight-knit club with players, fans and staff all one big community.”