ENGLAND scrum-half Luke Gale has promised to take his own game to the “next level” as they strive to rescue their hopes of reaching the Ladbrokes Four Nations final.
The hosts’ chances of taking a place in the Anfield showpiece on November 20 suffered a significant blow when losing their opener 17-16 against New Zealand at Huddersfield at the weekend.
It means they must beat minnows Scotland in Coventry this Saturday and also then defeat world champions Australia the following Sunday to be in with a chance of qualifying for the competition’s final for the first time since 2011.
Even then points difference could come into the equation, which means it is imperative they create and finish plenty against the Bravehearts as well as being defensively resolute as they were for long periods against the holders New Zealand.
For all that loss was disappointing, Gale held his own in only the Castleford Tigers player’s second Test appearance and rewarded Wayne Bennett’s faith in him.
Having debuted against France the week before, the 28-year-old kept his place despite the availability once more of Wigan Warriors’ George Williams and decent claims from Widnes Vikings’ Kevin Brown.
But he directed the side efficiently, probed well and looked assured to the extent that, if Bennett were to make changes against Scotland, there is an argument for the more experienced St George Illawarra half-back Gareth Widdop to make way following some ineffectual plays of his own.
Leeds-born Gale admitted: “I am loving it playing for England and my role at seven – I have dreamed of this since being a little boy.
“I want to kick on now and take it to the next level.
“Obviously it’s a bit different to your club football. I am playing with 16 class players.
“It’s the first time I’ve been involved with the boys and I’m learning different combinations so that’s going to be tough, but I am really enjoying it.
“The result didn’t go our way on Saturday, but I thought we were the best team for long periods of that game.
“We’ve got to take a lot from it. We started off really well, but they scrambled well as international teams do.
“The first 20 minutes were really good – and the last 20 minutes of the first half I can’t remember getting the ball.
“They got a late try and the start of the second half didn’t go our way as well. I didn’t think we were the smartest, but there’s a lot of positives we can take.”
Gale was called on defensively, too, as England came under intense pressure, particularly at the end of the first half when Shaun Johnson’s pin-point kicking saw the home side concede four goalline drop-outs.
“The effort was outstanding,” said the former Bradford Bulls captain. “I don’t know how many repeat sets they had, but our goal line D (defence) was super.
“There was one point in it at the end and we gifted them a couple of tries. We could have been smarter, but we will dust ourselves off and go again.
“If you lose you have got to learn something from it. I think we will learn a lot from that one.”
If selected again, Gale will be up against Huddersfield Giants half-back duo Danny Brough and Ryan Brierley this week as England look to right those wrongs with a convincing win against Scotland. Their next opponents – in their first Four Nations – lost their opener 54-12 to Australia last Friday, but competed for decent spells before eventually being outclassed.
With plenty of Super League and NRL experience in their ranks, Scotland cannot be written off.
Gale admitted: “We have to prepare the same as we did for New Zealand. Our preparation was outstanding all week. We had a couple of days off (after France) and now we’ll go through the same process.
“If we get our performance right the points take care of themselves. We will just go through the process again. Hopefully, we will get the job done.”
England reported no injury concerns ahead of Saturday’s game, but Bennett could make changes with most pressure arguably on Wigan centre Dan Sarginson, who made a couple of costly errors.
St Helens’ Mark Percival, who fared well on debut in France, could return against Scotland although there may not be too many changes when the squad is announced on Thursday.
Hull KR winger Ken Sio, 26, has returned to the NRL with Newcastle Knights after turning down an offer to stay at Craven Park.
He had been a huge success in his two seasons for Rovers following a move from Parramatta Eels, but turned down interest from other Super League clubs to head back to Australia where he has signed a two-year deal with Nathan Brown’s Newcastle.