STOPPING HALF-BACK Luke Gale is the key to Leeds Rhinos’ hopes of upsetting Betfred Super League leaders Castleford Tigers at Headingley tomorrow, rival No7 Rob Burrow says.
Leeds-born Gale, the current England scrum-half, has been in outstanding form for Tigers this year and is among the favourites for the end of season Man of Steel honour.
He began his career at Rhinos, but found his path to the first team blocked by Burrow.
After spells with Doncaster, Harlequins – under current Rhinos coach Brian McDermott – and Bradford Bulls, he signed for Castleford ahead of the 2015 campaign and has become one of the most influential players in the competition.
Burrow said: “He didn’t get the opportunities at Leeds, but he is a fantastic player.
“He has been to a few clubs and learned off some great coaches. He is by far the best half-back in Super League, he is at the heart and hub of everything. Somebody like that, you have got to limit his involvements in their team.
“If somebody like him has an off day you probably see the team have an off day, but it is easier said than done to keep him caged.”
Tigers are six points clear of third-placed Rhinos and Burrow described tomorrow’s derby as “massive”. He said: “They are always big games, but they are top of the league games at the moment.
“Cas have been by far the best side this year and we know we need to improve our game to compete with them.
“They are a really good side, but we are really looking forward to the challenge.”
Burrow has missed Rhinos’ last two games after suffering a shoulder injury in the win over Leigh Centurions on June 2.
He was named in the initial squad for last Friday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final against Featherstone Rovers, but missed out after failing a fitness test.
The long-serving No7 has been included in Rhinos’ 19 for tomorrow.
“It has been a tough couple of weeks,” admitted the 34-year-old, who has played in all seven of Rhinos’ Super League Grand Final wins.
“The Challenge Cup is nice to be part of, but unfortunately I didn’t make it last week. I am trying my best and I want to be back because it’s a big game.”
The current injury dates back three years to when Burrow was sidelined for almost three months with a broken collarbone.
“It’s the metalwork in there,” he said. “I’m sure if there wasn’t a rod or whatever in there it would be fine, but it still does hurt at times.
“It’s just being able to get through a game. Obviously your shoulder’s very important in rugby, but you don’t want to be making it worse so you miss out for a number of weeks.
“I am hopeful of playing this week, but we’ll leave it as long as we can.
“Since I did it against Saints in the Challenge Cup it has hurt the odd time, but this time is the worst [impact] I have had on it by far.
“It really tested it out. At first we thought it might have been a fracture, but thankfully it wasn’t.”