Leeds Rhinos captain Luke Gale hails ‘fantastic’ spirit after finally tasting Challenge Cup glory

CAPTAIN Luke Gale says lifting the Coral Challenge Cup is just the start of what is going to be a “great journey” for a blossoming Leeds Rhinos side.

The England scrum-half led them to victory against Salford Red Devils, his 76th-minute drop goal proving decisive in a dramatic game at Wembley.

It was the first time the club had won a trophy since the end of their ‘Golden Generation’ era when Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow signed off in style by beating Gale’s Castleford Tigers in the 2017 Grand Final.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Clearly, a rebuild was needed and it has taken some time.

But the 32-year-old’s arrival from Castleford this season has been a key part of the revival under Richard Agar, the coach who has invested so much faith in a raft of talented youngsters.

“You press guys probably predicted we wouldn’t even get in the top-eight at the start of the season,” said Gale, with Leeds also still pushing hard for Super League’s top four.

“We never listened to that, thankfully. I knew coming to Leeds they had a young squad and it’d be a work in progress – it still is – but the spirit we have is fantastic. To win a Challenge Cup in my first year has probably surpassed all expectations if I’m honest. It’s fantastic and I think the journey we’re going to go on with this team is going to be a great one. I wanted to come back to Leeds and get them back where they belong.

“That was part of it – having a young squad and building – and those blokes in there will run through a brick wall for you.

We've done it: Leeds Rhinos captain Luke Gale celebrates at the final whistle. Picture: SWPix

“It was the best moment of my career up to press. Hopefully it’s the first of many.”

Gale came through the Leeds academy but was released before playing a first-team game. Instead, he started his senior career in the lower leagues with Doncaster before working his way back via London Broncos, Bradford Bulls and Castleford.

“I mentioned last night (Friday) how it was a boyhood dream to lead Leeds out as captain at Wembley,” said Gale.

“To win it is beyond belief. It’s taken me until 32. I never gave up hope. My career probably didn’t start the way I wanted it to. I had to go to Doncaster on loan.

“It’s been a great journey and one hell of a story so to then win a Challenge Cup at 32 is what dreams are made of.

“I’m overjoyed. It probably hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Leeds led at half-time but were 16-12 behind going into the final quarter. Gale said: “We started the game well and played the second half terribly.

“Credit to Salford. They’re gritty, determined and at one point I thought we’d kind of thrown it away.

“But it’s happened a few times this year; we’ve gone behind and we’ve had the belief in the team to come back. I can remember Huddersfield going 26-6 up and we still got the win so the belief here is fantastic. I’m overjoyed.

“But Rich Agar is bit of an unsung hero. What he’s done for this team is great.

“He won’t take any credit for the turnaround this last year but I’m going to give him that credit. He has so much belief in the young boys and in us and I’m proud for him.”

Gale also paid tribute to Burrow, the Rhinos legend who made the same No 7 jersey his own and continues to battle motor neurone disease.

He was the RFL’s chief guest in “absentia” for the behind-closed-doors final.

Gale added: : “I said when I first came to Leeds, when Rob was first diagnosed with MND, that if I could even do half of what’d he’d done – I probably wouldn’t even get that – but if I could play like he did week in, week out, I’d do myself proud and I think I’d do Rob proud as well.

“It’s been a tough week. We all watched the documentary on Tuesday night. It’s heroic how he is and his mindset – and his family’s – so I hope we put a smile on his face.

“I know he’ll have been watching and his family and it’s fitting that I’ve got the number seven jersey exactly as he did.

“How good was he at Leeds? He led by example and it’s a fitting tribute. I’m proud to wear that number seven jersey.”

Saturday’s success also helped lay to rest the ghosts of 2017 for Gale, who had seen Castleford surge to the League Leaders’ Shield only to freeze against Leeds in the Grand Final.

Gale, who also lost the World Cup final with England that year, said: “I probably learned a lot of lessons from that (Grand Final).

“When you lose you learn more than when you win. I learned a few things that night.

“It was a wet night and we probably tried playing a bit too expansive so I knew the kicking game would be vital here. It’s stood me in good stead since.”

Leeds sit fifth in Super League ahead of facing champions St Helens on Friday.

“The by-product of getting to the Challenge Cup final is we’ve played a couple of games midweek – Catalans and Warrington – which we’ve lost,” said Gale.

“But the young boys have done a great job. Saints will be a tough game and it does mean we’re behind the eight ball.

“We’ll enjoy the weekend as well and we’ll dust ourselves down and go again. The goal is to get into that final and go lift another.”

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today.

Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers.

So, please - if you can - pay for our work. Just £5 per month is the starting point. If you think that which we are trying to achieve is worth more, you can pay us what you think we are worth. By doing so, you will be investing in something that is becoming increasingly rare. Independent journalism that cares less about right and left and more about right and wrong. Journalism you can trust.

Thank you

James Mitchinson