CASTLEFORD TIGERS’ most influential player, Luke Gale, is due to undergo surgery this week, after it was confirmed he has snapped an Achilles tendon.
The 30-year-old England scrum-half is booked in for an operation on Thursday, the day his team-mates fly to Lanzarote for a week-long training camp.
Tigers’ director of rugby Jon Wells said if the extent of the injury is as severe as feared Gale could be out of action for up to a year.
Castleford may now look to bring in a replacement, but Wells indicated they are keen to give the pivots already in their squad – Jamie Ellis, Ben Roberts and Cory Aston – an opportunity alongside 2018 Super League young player of the year Jake Trueman.
Gale was recovering from knee surgery when he was hurt at training last Saturday. Speaking at Tigers’ pre-season media day at Rogerthorpe Manor Hotel, near Pontefract, Wells confirmed: “Luke has unfortunately suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“We can confirm that now. That was suspected over the weekend. The specialist will determine the extent of the injury, but it is a fairly serious injury for Luke.
“The first thing to say is as a club we are gutted for him. He is a key and influential member of our squad, a former Man of Steel and an England international.
“It goes without saying he will be sorely missed. He is likely to be out a big chunk of the season, just how long we have yet to see.
“The specialist will determine that. He is already provisionally booked in for surgery on Thursday.”
Of the time scale, Wells added: “I would imagine the best case would be six months, worst case nine to 12 months.
“The complicating factor is Luke is in the middle of re-hab from microfracture knee surgery.
“That separate re-hab has to stop now and will be taken up again once the Achilles tendon repair has been completed.
“It is a complicated one for Luke. Our primary thoughts are with the player, we have to make sure he is in the right head space, but he is a very mature, resilient character.
“He is going to have to be. It is a challenge for him, it is one of the most serious injuries you can receive as a professional sportsman.”
Tigers kick off their Betfred Super League campaign in just over three weeks’ time, at home to Catalans Dragons on Friday, February 1.
Gale was already expected to miss the opening month of the season and Wells, who revealed the injury occured in a “freak training incident”, stressed coach Daryl Powell has “a lot of options” in the halves.
He said: “We don’t have a marquee player, we don’t operate that system.
“It doesn’t fit with Daryl’s philosophy.
“He likes a big squad to choose from and that has come to our rescue previously, as recently as 2018.
“We had several influential players missing for large parts of last year and still made a semi-final.
“We will be drawing on those resources again so Jamie Ellis is going to be the next cab off the rank, Benny Roberts is there with a vast amount of half-back experience and Cory Aston played particularly well in the festive fixture, as did young Jake Sweeting.
“We’re not short of options in the halves, but we are still working through the options we do have with the coaching staff.
“If it is decided we need to go into the market that’s something we will address when that time comes.”
Tigers have not made any signings since the end of last season and Wells said they are at, or near to, the salary cap.
“If Luke was ruled out for the season we would be approaching the RFL for salary cap relief for Luke’s salary cap value, then we would be looking to go into the market and get a replacement,” Wells stated.
“But there’s a lot more options we have on the table as it stands and one of the benefits of Daryl’s philosophy over the last few years is a deep squad. We go down the batting order, we can get to the mid-20s in squad number order and still have quality in there.
“It looks like are are going to have to draw upon that in 2019.”
Rumours Ellis is struggling with an injury were played down by Wells who indicated the former Hull man will be ready for round one
He said: “After a pretty intensive pre-season there’s a lot of guys carrying niggles and Jamie would be one of them.”
Gale was Super League’s outstanding player in 2017, when Tigers finished top of the table and only his knee injury kept him out of the England squad for last year’s Test series against New Zealand.
Wells described his lay off as “a big loss not just for Castleford Tigers, but for Super League” and said: “It is a key year for us [the competition] with all the changes and we need our best players playing.
“It goes without saying we have lost one of those for 2019, as it stands at the moment.”