FOR all a broken kneecap has hurt him over the last four months, it is the pain of last year’s Grand Final loss that ultimately drives Castleford Tigers’ Luke Gale as he prepares for an imminent return.
The reigning Steve Prescott Man of Steel has been out of action since suffering that torn patellar tendon during a freak collision with Wakefield Trinity’s Pauli Pauli at the end of April.
He is set to finally resume in the club’s next Super 8s game, against Catalans Dragons on Saturday week, and hopes to give Tigers a timely boost as they bid for Old Trafford again.
Last year, the England scrum-half was rated the competition’s best player as he helped Castleford win the League Leaders’ Shield by a record 10 points – only to be undone by fierce rivals Leeds Rhinos in Manchester.
This time around, although it is St Helens who are destined to finish top at a canter, Castleford sit third with a semi-final berth already all but secured.
Gale told The Yorkshire Post: “We are in a great spot. We’ve got players coming back from injury (Benny Roberts included) and other players, like Jake Trueman, who are in great form.
We’ve quietly gone under the radar and are maybe not all-singing, all-dancing like last season. But, then again, I remember what Leeds then did to us last year – that is still fresh in the memory bank.Luke Gale
“We’ve quietly gone under the radar and are maybe not all-singing, all-dancing like last season. But, then again, I remember what Leeds then did to us last year – that is still fresh in the memory bank.
“I just can’t wait to get back out there with the boys and, not just that, actually make a difference.
“I’ve just started joining in with the team stuff and we’re aiming for that Catalans game.That’s the plan.”
Given his kicking prowess, creative talent and vast experience, the 30-year-old’s return will serve as a significant plus for Daryl Powell’s side.
Gale conceded he has endured some difficult times during his enforced absence.
“Injuries are part and parcel of the game but I’ve been fortunate in the last four years with Cas in that I’d only missed a handful of games,” explained the former Bradford Bulls captain.
“The last time I had a bad injury I was only about 23 and that’s when I did ankle ligament playing for England Knights. I missed about 12 weeks then.
“You forget what it’s like. All my week is normally geared towards the 80 minutes at the end of it and it has been really tough not having that.
“I was literally in a knee brace for seven weeks. The first four weeks it was set at zero degrees and locked straight.
“They said after four weeks it could be moved to 30 degrees so I was really looking forward to that fourth week. I couldn’t wait.
“But when it arrived the actual change was tiny. I couldn’t tell the difference. That was hard.
“With the recovery time going a little bit over what we initially expected – it has been a bit slower – it has made it tough. But we’ve had a steady progression and there is now light now at the end of the tunnel. That’s great.”
Gale was back on the training field with his team-mates earlier this week and is confident of slotting straight back in.
“The only pressure is the pressure I’ll put on myself,” added the Yorkshireman, who featured in the World Cup final last December. “They’re all important games now – all big games – and the intensity goes up in Super 8s anyway so it’s going to be interesting.”
Meanwhile, veteran Castleford centre Jake Webster, 34, has agreed a two-year deal with Bradford Bulls starting next season. Powell described the popular Kiwi as a “pleasure to work with and a big player in the club’s development” since joining from Hull KR at the end of 2012.