CASTLEFORD TIGERS have to be better defensively if they are to challenge for honours this year, scrum-half Luke Gale admits.
Tigers were the second-highest points scorers last year, but only Wakefield Trinity conceded more.
Defence is the area Tigers have been working hardest on in pre-season and Gale is confident the extra effort will pay off.
“We played Saints in our last friendly and they shouldn’t have scored,” he said of Tigers’ 22-6 win. “Their try came from a 40-20 that we kept in. We know ourselves our defence has improved and it’s certainly one thing we’ll be focusing on this year.”
Gale described Tigers’ pre-season as “really good” and said the result at St Helens proved they are on track for Friday’s Betfred Super League opener at home to Leigh Centurions.
“We had a good result against Saints and I think the boys are ready to start now,” Gale said.
“You can only prepare the best you can and we feel we have so we’re ready for Leigh in round one.
“We know they will come all guns blazing so we will have to be on our mettle and I’m sure they will be.”
Zak Hardaker, Jesse Sene-Lefao and Greg Eden could all make their debut this weekend and Gale reckons Tigers’ squad is “a lot stronger” than it was last season.
“We’ve got some strength in depth, we’ve got some key players back from injury and pre-season has gone a lot better,” he said.
“We feel like we are in a good place and we’re ready for round one.
“We’ve done our talking now, we’ve played our warm-up games and we are ready to roll.
“We’ve all got that self-belief. You can talk as much as you want, but you have to go and do it on the pitch.
“We believe we are ready to do that.”
Gale, who has been named in the Super League Dream Team for the past two seasons and made his England debut last autumn, will be a pivotal player for Tigers.
He said: “I’ve had a taste of it and my ambition is to make that England shirt mine for the World Cup.
“I want to do exactly the same as last year, keep kicking on and keep improving and lead the team.”
Gale knows his England prospects hinge on him playing well for Tigers.
“It is always in the back of your mind,” he added of this year’s tournament in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
“All I did last year was focus on my own game and England came off the back of that. I won’t be changing in any way I will just carry on the same and hopefully that comes at the end of the season again.”