Saturday Interview: Gale-force blitz could be the key for England

Castleford's Luke Gale.
Castleford's Luke Gale.
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WHEN you think of brilliant Great Britain half-backs over the years many have been blessed with two priceless qualities – electric pace and sheer guile.

Alex Murphy, Mick Shoebottom, Keith Hepworth, Shaun Edwards and Roger Millward all fit into that category, players who could turn a game in an instant with a moment of inspired ingenuity or simple burst of acceleration.

Being as modest is he is, Luke Gale, Castleford Tigers’ in-form scrum-half, is the last person who will say he ever belongs in that illustrious bracket of personnel.

However, there is certainly a growing weight of evidence to suggest the exciting 27-year-old should at least be given the opportunity to prove he is capable of similar wondrous feats for his country some time soon.

With Great Britain’s Lions unfortunately defunct since 2007, it is an England side Steve McNamara will select soon to face Four Nations champions New Zealand over three Test matches here this autumn.

Many people would say they would like to see Gale given a chance.

Of course, there has tended to be a predilection in recent times for the national team to be centred around a more mechanical No 7, someone who brings structure and order to help navigate his side through the unforgiving waters of international football.

At the last World Cup in 2013, for instance, McNamara picked the maverick Rangi Chase at stand-off but he was offset by captain Kevin Sinfield’s steadying influence alongside.

Last year, Matty Smith, the fine but unspectacular scrum-half from Wigan Warriors, fulfilled the role following Sinfield’s international retirement, operating with Gareth Widdop’s more creative talent in the Four Nations.

But with England failing so often at the top level, and still awaiting a first meaningful tournament success since, as Great Britain, the Lions lifted the 1972 World Cup, there is an argument for simply blitzing their foes with as much attacking flair as possible.

Gale showed his talents once more with a man-of-the-match display as he scored two tries, had a hand in two more and slotted four goals in Castleford’s surprise 29-22 win at Super League leaders on Thursday.

Smith is expected to be McNamara’s No 7 again against the Kiwis but Gale’s stellar performance the other night – one of many in his first year at Wheldon Road since joining from Bradford Bulls – has intensified the clamours for the crafty Yorkshireman to be included.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, he said: “All I can do is keep playing consistently well and, hopefully, Steve Mac is watching.

“But it’s easy in this (Castleford) side. They make me look good half of the time so, hopefully, that phone call will be there and if not… well, it’s up to Steve isn’t it? I’d definitely enjoy the chance to take on the Kiwis.

“Every kid would love to play for their country and I’d love that challenge to play for England against New Zealand this year.

“I played a bit for the Knights (England’s second string) and loved that and I’d like to keep going and get a full cap.”

It is perhaps no surprise he has flourished this year with Castleford; last term, his third campaign with Bradford, he was playing behind a beaten pack that was eventually relegated, but his current employers offer so much more up front.

Furthermore, in Tigers head coach Daryl Powell, plus assistant coach Danny Orr and Ryan Sheridan, he has a wealth of knowledge to tap into given all three, at some point, played as half-backs for Great Britain in their own rich careers.

Powell said Gale had to be “right in the mix” for England honours after his master-classs against Leeds while Orr, who also played alongside Gale in 2009 and 2010 during four formative seasons for the youngster at Harlequins, believes he should get the nod.

The player, whose 25 try-assists this term is only bettered in Super League by Huddersfield Giants’ Danny Brough (30), has taken a circuitous route to get to the brink of this recognition.

Gale was part of the Rhinos’ famed Academy production line and in the same side as current England internationals Ryan Hall and Kallum Watkins.

However, without ever playing a first-team match, Gale moved away from his home city to gain game-time.

Doncaster were the lucky recipients of his services where he soon gained profile as 2008 National League Two Player of the Year, helping him earn that move to Super League in the capital before returning to Yorkshire in Bradford colours four years ago.

He insists he does not wonder what may have been if he had stayed with Leeds, who were in the middle of three successive Grand Final wins while he was picking up that individual gong with Doncaster.

“I was a young kid wasn’t I?” reflected Gale. “You look at who you’ve got in front of you – Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow.

“I mean they’re not two bad players are they to kick out of the team? So, I always knew I was behind the eight-ball really at Leeds and they are a great pair of lads. McGuire and Burrow have been at the top of their game for the last 10 years so I’ve no regrets at all.

“Leeds are a massive club but I’m playing my best rugby yet at Castleford and enjoying it.

“It helps when you’re in a good side. I’d been in a London team where I kind of learned my trade as a young kid at half-back while with Bradford we struggled off the field…

“But playing behind the pack here is outstanding. They get us on the front foot and then you have (Michael) Shenton outside you and Denny Solomona so you just feed them and they make you look good.”

Gale has formed a fine link with England centre Shenton since switching to the left edge earlier in the season.

“He has been a massive help for me,” he said, about the Castleford captain.

“I just admire his professionalism and he’s kind of instilled that into me – I’m playing with a lot more patience.

“I’ve switched from the right to the left and it has been brilliant.”

Castleford already knew they had just missed out on the top four before their heroics at Leeds but their verve was clear to see.

There is an argument that McGuire, who hails from the East Leeds club just a few miles from Gale’s junior outfit Middleton Marauders, should be recalled to the England side for the first time since winning the last of his seven caps in 2009.

Nearing his 33rd birthday, he is enjoying some of his best football in years and is still able to pierce defences with his pace.

Either way, England have options and, in Gale, potentially a long-term fit for No 7.