A FRUSTRATED observer a year ago, Castleford Tigers half-back Luke Gale is ready to take on a leadership role in England’s new era.
Gale is expected to make his full international debut this afternoon when coach Wayne Bennett’s men face France in a one-off Test in Avignon.
In spite of his lack of experience at the elite level, Gale – recognised as Super League’s best scrum-half for the past two seasons – has been included in Bennett’s first leadership group.
“He spoke to me privately and said he was putting me in it, which is really nice,” Gale confirmed.
“There’s five or six people who have been appointed to go between the boys, keep everyone happy and if there’s any concerns from some of the younger lads, we’ll help them with it.
“Most clubs have it and being a half-back, it’s my job to be a pivotal part of the group, but it was brilliant to be named in that.
“The likes of Sam Burgess, Jammer (James Graham) and Liam Farrell are in it and it’s humbling to be part of it.”
Gale was called into England’s squad for the first time last year, but had to watch all four autumn internationals from the sidelines as George Williams, Gareth Widdop and Matty Smith were preferred in the play-making positions.
“It’s tough to put into words how excited I am about the opportunity,” said Gale of his inclusion in the current 24-strong group.
“I think every year you play as a professional you grow as a player – especially at the top level like Super League.
“I’ve learned more in the last year than I can remember, particularly how to deal with adversity.
“At Castleford, we’ve lost plenty of men due to injury and I’ve had to step up as captain, so it’s been a tough, yet enjoyable year.”
Gale admitted: “Last year with England came into it, too. It’s frustrating when you’re called into camp for a full series and don’t play.
“You’re desperate to get the call because you think you’re so close. It didn’t happen, but it can drive you on and make you more determined. That wasn’t going to stop me; it wasn’t a nice feeling but it can only spur you on.”
Gale has been named in Bennett’s initial 19 for today’s game and is expected to partner Widdop – the St George-Illawarra stand-off, who is originally from Halifax – in the halves. A strong performance would boost his chances of being selected for England’s opening Four Nations fixture against New Zealand at Huddersfield in a week’s time.
“I’m desperate to get out there at last. Being in the 19-man squad is a bit of a dream, but my attention has already shifted to getting that shirt on and fingers crossed I get the nod from Wayne.
“This is my chance to impress him if I play, I know that. He’s open and admitted from the start the boys who played in the Grand Final would be left out, so we knew we’d get a shot, us lads who haven’t played.
“It’s up to me to take it and convince him I can start in game one against the Kiwis.”