WHEN an effusive Luke Gale says he thinks his best football is still yet ahead of him, you begin to understand why Leeds Rhinos opted to fork out a six-figure fee for the England international.
READ MORE – Who benefits most from Luke Gale’s switch to Leeds from Castleford?
His long-speculated switch from Castleford Tigers was finally confirmed yesterday with Leeds understood to have paid around £160,000 for the gifted scrum-half on a three-year deal.
Ordinarily, that would seem good business for such a stellar player who played in a World Cup final and won the Steve Prescott Man of Steel just two years ago.
However, it is what has happened in the intervening two years that may leave some fans wondering whether or not it is a gamble on Leeds’s part.
Gale, who turns 32 in June, missed all of this campaign after rupturing an Achilles tendon in pre-season training and also sat out the majority of last year due to a fractured kneecap.
I didn’t want to look back on my career when I got to 40 and realise I didn’t pursue this deal. It was something I wanted and I can’t wait to show Leeds what I can do. There’s always been a burning ambition to come back.Luke Gale
Still, he is on course to start pre-season and there is nothing to suggest he cannot or will not recapture his best form.
Rhinos, of course, are in dire need of a commanding half-back and they will now hope Gale – who hails from Leeds and was once on their Academy books without ever playing first-team – will provide the missing link as they start their latest rebuild.
“Since 2017 it’s been up and down, with more downs than ups,” said Gale, who now completes his boyhood dream.
“But I think I’ve got my best footy ahead of me; I’m 31 but feel 25. I’m looking to get back fit because I know I can have a massive impact on the team.
“I didn’t want to look back on my career when I got to 40 and realise I didn’t pursue this deal. It was something I wanted and I can’t wait to show Leeds what I can do. There’s always been a burning ambition to come back.”
Clearly, the prolific Gale has given wonderful service to Castleford where he has been for the last five years since leaving relegated Bradford Bulls.
But, with just one year of his contract remaining, it was perhaps a good time for the club to cash in especially as the player had approached them earlier this year to “explore opportunities” elsewhere.
Castleford have duly lined up a suitable replacement in the shape of St Helens’ Danny Richardson, who, though out of favour this term, was in the 2018 Super League Dream Team, is still only 23 and seen as a future England international.
Tigers were quick to thank Gale for his service but also acknowledge they have been good for each other; the club finished top for the first time in their history in 2017 and reached a maiden Grand Final but the Yorkshireman also earned his Test debut on the back of that.
On his day, there are few better exponents of the half-back craft, whether that be the short and long kicking game, distribution or the ability to break down defences with his running threat.
Gale’s game-management quality is something Leeds have missed badly since Danny McGuire’s departure at the end of 2017 and head coach Richard Agar will believe he now has the man needed to fire them again.
Rhinos, of course, have been in relegation fights for three of the last four years so it is imperative they sort those playmaker issues once and for all.
Their last-play options had been notoriously bad for much of this last season even if the side did look more balanced once Salford Red Devils’ stand-off Robert Lui was bought for another ‘undisclosed’ fee in June.
Current No 7 Richie Myler has come in for plenty of criticism even thought he was Rhinos’ player of the year in his debut 2018 campaign and also earned an England recall.
Gale will now be expected to lead the side with all his usual gusto and guile and, if he can recapture his golden form of two years ago, there is no reason why the move will not be a success.
Agar says Leeds have done all their “due diligence” on those aforementioned injuries.
He also extolled the player’s virtues as a leader and commented on that kicking game that has been “missing” during his time at the club.
Granted, that then calls into question Myler’s future but Agar said “that’s down to Richie a little bit” and added “we know he is an experienced half that wants to play first-grade but he still can.”
Castleford, meanwhile, say they have already secured their replacement so the Richardson deal could be announced soon.
The potential of his link-up with Great Britain hopeful Jake Trueman, 20, is mouthwatering.
It will be fascinating to see which of the budding new partnerships thrives most in 2020. And beyond.