WHO GETS the best deal out of Leeds Rhinos’ move to bring Castleford Tigers’ Luke Gale to Emerald Headingley certainly polarises opinion.
The England scrum-half’s long-speculated switch was finally confirmed today but which party benefits most?
Some would say Castleford are right to cash-in - Tigers received a ‘significant’ fee understood to be in the region of £160,000 - especially given the player has been dogged by injury issues over the last two seasons and was entering the final year of his contract.
However, moreover, he actually asked to “explore opportunities” elsewhere which is the most obvious reason of all; once any player has done that, especially someone of such standing, it is clear a move has to be initiated if - and only if - the selling club can get itself a suitable replacement.
With that in mind, Castleford do have a deal for St Helens’ Danny Richardson - Super League’s Dream Team scrum-half last season - sorted for 2020 and beyond.
Given Gale turns 32 next, and Richardson is still just 23 and tipped as a future England international, Daryl Powell’s side are certainly well-set in that regard.
But what of Leeds’ desire to finally get Gale back to Headingley?
Yes, ‘back’ to Headingley given the lad from Middleton, barely nine miles across the city, was on their Academy books as a teenager, joining in 2004, the year the first-team won the first of their eight Super League titles.
It has undoubtedly been a circuitous route to return via Doncaster, Harlequins RL, Bradford Bulls and finally Castleford where he had been for the last five years underpinning the Tigers’ revolution.
It is clear Rhinos have been in need of a commanding half-back for some time and, in many regards, Gale perfectly fits the bill as he starts a three-year deal.
Just two years ago, he was named Steve Prescott Man of Steel after helping guide Castleford to top spot for the first time in their 93-year history and onto a maiden Grand Final.
He finished that year by playing in the World Cup final for England against Australia.
Indeed, on his day, there are few better exponents of the half-back craft, whether that short and long kicking game, distribution and the ability to break down defences with his running game.
Gale’s overall game-management quality is something Leeds have missed badly since Danny McGuire’s departure at the end of 2017 and head coach Richard Agar and director of rugby Kevin Sinfield will believe they now have the man needed to start their urgent rebuild.
Lets’ not forget, Rhinos have been in relegation fights for three of the last four campaigns and it is imperative they sort their 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 stand-off Robert Lui was bought from Salford Red Devils (for another ‘undisclosed’ fee) in June.
Current No7 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 2017 form, there is no reason why the move will not be a big success.
He is finally playing for his hometown club, something he has always dreamed of, and knows this will be the last big move of his career.
The nagging question mark will hang over whether - after separate serious injuries in each of the last two seasons - Gale will ever get back to his best.
A fractured kneecap saw his miss most of last year and he has not featured once this term having ruptured his Achilles tendon during a pre-season training session back in January.
Indeed, since that World Cup final in Brisbane, Gale has only played 15 games of rugby league.
Leeds will argue this enforced break will actually extend his career and - fully recovered from that Achilles issue - he is ready to join up for pre-season next month.
In the end, it could be a fruitful deal for both parties, with Castleford having an exciting, youthful half-back pairing of Great Britain hopeful Jake Trueman and Richardson, and Gale finally wearing the famous blue and amber, seeking to bring them the clarity and organisational quality they so desperately need.
But, as always, only time will tell.