MAN OF STEEL Luke Gale last night admitted he dare not dream about how it would feel to help England reach their first World Cup final in 22 years as it could scupper any hopes of success.
The Castleford Tigers scrum-half was aged just seven the last time they featured in the showpiece, ultimately losing against Australia at Wembley in 1995.
However, if England can negotiate dangerous outsiders Tonga in tomorrow’s Auckland semi-final they will secure a final place once more and take a step closer to lifting the trophy for the first time.
“I’ll have just been kicking a ball around on the street with my mates back then,” said Leeds-born Gale, when asked what it would be like to be the first since the likes of Jason Robinson, Martin Offiah and Andy Farrell to claim a World Cup final spot.
“I think I’d just started actually playing for Middleton Marauders in a shirt five times too big for me.
“It’d be the highlight of my career so far to get to a World Cup final. But we’ve got a huge 80 minutes to perform in first and I can’t allow myself to dream that dream yet. I’ve got a big job to do on Saturday beforehand.”
Indeed, Gale does have a significant task ahead given his importance as the side’s primary kicker and orchestrator against an unbeaten Tonga side in their maiden World Cup semi-final, but packed with talent and set to be roared on by massive support in New Zealand.
England, of course, expected to face the Kiwis at this stage, but they were undone by second-tier nation Tonga in the pool stages and then stunned by Fiji in the quarter-finals.
England defeated Papua New Guinea in the last-eight, but, for all their impressive form in patches, they have yet to deliver a consistently commanding display.
It is easy to see why some England fans remain on edge – there were 20 handling errors against PNG – and Gale admitted: “We definitely need to get it right this week. We haven’t quite hit that 80-minute performance yet and we must do that now if we want to get to this final.
“PNG were a very physical side. We knew going into the game; they’re a good side that run it back at you with a fair bit of intent.
“It was a really tough game, but a good one. They came to play and we knew they would. It took a couple of days to get over it, with all the bruises, and we had some extra recovery.
“But we’re all sweet now and looking forward to the next test ,which we know will be bigger again. We’re in the semi-final of a World Cup; there will be more of the same in terms of physicality and they have some stars amongst them as well so we’re expecting a tough encounter.
“We have to be better this week, but I do feel like we’re getting there as well. It’s do-or-die now. It’s semi-final football and I’m sure the boys will be ready.
It’d be the highlight of my career so far to get to a World Cup final. But we’ve got a huge 80 minutes to perform in first and I can’t allow myself to dream that dream yet.
“It’s just about cutting the little errors out and completing a bit higher this week and that’s what the boys are looking at.”
England’s chances will be improved if, as expected, Warrington Wolves stand-off Kevin Brown passes his ‘head’ test after suffering concussion last week.
The ex-Huddersfield Giants captain has impressed alongside Gale in the last two games after initially missing out to Gareth Widdop.
Gale has certainly been able to keep a close watch on his rate of recovery – they have roomed together since flying into Auckland this week.
“It is a bit weird here, though,” explained the 29-year-old, who inspired Castleford to a maiden League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final this term.
“It’s a double room, but it has a sort of partition in so I’m talking to Browny, but I can’t actually see him.
“We watched England’s women’s rugby league game the other night before we went to bed and he is a good room-mate, good fun and it’s good as well as he’s my half-back partner so we can pick each other’s brain.”
On their evolving partnership, Gale added: “It started earlier this year in the Samoa game. I thought we played well then.
“He offers a lot of structure, his talk is really good and he kind of helps me out.
“We’ve got a good understanding and I’m pleased for him. Hopefully, we can continue that partnership on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, Gale’s former Castleford half-back partner Rangi Chase has been banned for two years after testing positive for cocaine.
The 2011 Man of Steel, who featured in England’s last World Cup campaign four years ago, was playing for Widnes Vikings when initially suspended by his club in July.
UK Anti-Doping have revealed the 31-year-old will not be able to play again until July 14, 2019.
“His two-year ban serves as a stark warning to athletes about the very real consequences of taking recreational drugs whilst competing in sport,” said UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead.
Hall on Bateman: Page25.