Luke Gale relishing his return to action for Leeds Rhinos on Boxing Day
THE AGONISING wait is almost over for Leeds Rhinos’ new scrum-half Luke Gale.
The former Man of Steel is set to play his first game since October 5, 2018, when Rhinos square up to Wakefield Trinity at Emerald Headingley on Boxing Day.
Gale has had to wait even longer to play a senior match for Leeds, having come through Rhinos’ academy a decade ago, but left without making his competitive debut.
That is expected to happen when Rhinos play host to Hull in Betfred Super League round one on Sunday, February 2, but Thursday’s Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge will be a leap forward at the end of Gale’s injury nightmare.
The 31-year-old suffered knee damage playing for Castleford Tigers two years ago and then snapped an Achilles tendon during a training session in January, an injury which kept him out of action for the entire 2019 campaign.
Gale, who re-signed for Leeds in October, has been named as starting scrum-half for this week’s pre-season opener – with previous number seven Richie Myler on the bench – and insisted: “I am looking forward to it, it has been a long time coming.”
The Leeds-born half-back said: “The boys have trained well and everything’s gone good so it’s exciting.
“There’s a few nerves there as well, which is to be expected, but it’s more [a feeling of] excitement. My last game was the [play-offs] semi-final against Wigan in 2018 so that’s a long time, but I have been training, I have probably done a three-month pre-season and I feel great. It [the Achilles] is ready to go and my body’s ready to go.”
And Gale already knows the ankle he had repaired can stand up to whatever will be thrown at him.
“Stevie Ward absolutely clattered me in training the other day, which gave it a good test,” he reported. I have probably done everything and more that I needed to.
“As soon as the first whistle goes and you have your first contact it is just a normal game.
“We have trained 13 on 13 for quite a while, so it’s exciting.”
With marksman Rhyse Martin not featuring this week, Gale will be Rhinos’ designated goal kicker.
“I went up last week and did a bit [of practice] at Headingley,” he confirmed.
Leeds have been in pre-season since early November and Gale reckons the signs for Thursday – and next season – are positive.
He said: “When you’ve done two months of pre-season, everyone’s ready, everyone wants a game and a bit of collision and we’ll see where we’re at. We’ve a lot of new players and it might take a while to bed in, but the best way to do that is in game situations.”
Both coaches have named a stronger-than-usual line-up for the Christmas fixture. Gale added: “It is good to get everyone playing and working on combinations in a bit different intensity to training.”
This week’s game won’t be Gale’s maiden Boxing Day match for Leeds.
His only previous appearance for Rhinos in a first-team game was at Christmas, 2007, when he started at scrum-half in a 26-18 loss to Trinity.
None of the other Rhinos players on duty that morning is still at the club.
Three members of Wakefield’s 2007 side, Ryan Atkins and Jay Pitts – who have both recently returned to Mobile Rocket Stadium, Belle Vue – and Kyle Wood are set to play on Thursday.
Another of Trinity’s survivors from 12 years ago, Danny Brough, is not in the squad for this week’s game.
Leeds Rhinos: J Walker, Newman, L Sutcliffe, Hurrell, Handley, Lui, Gale, Seumanufagai, Leeming, Oledzki, Mellor, Ward, Smith. Subs Dwyer, Myler, Cuthbertson, Donaldson, A Sutcliffe, Mustapha.
Wakefield Trinity: from Ashurst, Atkins, Croft, Crowther, Green, Gwaze, Hampshire, Jowitt, Kershaw, King, Kirmond, Lyne, Miller, Pitts, Tangata, Tanginoa, A Walker, J Wood, K Wood.
Kick-off: Boxing Day, 11.30am.
Referee: Liam Moore (Wigan).