St Helens and Wigan’s epic Grand Final sets the benchmark for Leeds Rhinos, says Luke Gale

AS much as the epic Betfred Super League Grand Final was a brilliant advert of just how good rugby league can be, it also served as a timely reminder of what other teams must now do to attain such lofty levels of excellence.

Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 6:00 am
St Helens celebrate with the trophy after winning the Betfred Super League Grand Final at the KCOM Stadium, Hull. PA (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

Champions St Helens prevailed 8-4 against Wigan Warriors with the very last play of the most dramatic and high-quality Grand Final in the competition’s history on Friday.

The phenomenal efforts from both sides, especially in terms of their relentless defensive qualities, left onlookers utterly beguiled.

Leeds Rhinos captain Luke Gale, whose fifth-placed team won the Challenge Cup but were knocked out at the first round of play-offs, was one of them.

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He conceded it means everyone else is going to have to raise the bar in 2021 simply to stand a chance of competing with the top two sides.

“I thought the standard was exceptional,” the England scrum-half said.

“I’ve not enjoyed a game that much for years. Even the State of Origins. I’d say that was right up there with them and that is definitely the standard we need to be at. One hundred per cent.

“Saints and Wigan are obviously the two top teams. If I’m honest, I don’t think we’re too far off but doing that on a consistent level is key.

Leeds's Luke Gale. in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley (Picture: SWpix.com)

“The defence from both sides was outstanding. To keep it that low-scoring, especially with all that pressure…

“It is now the benchmark and not just for us at Leeds but the whole of Super League.

“Everyone will be looking at that game and saying that is where we now need to get to to win a Grand Final.”

Even though the game was played behind closed doors at Hull’s KCOM Stadium, organisers ensured there was a real sense of occasion with an impressive light show in the build-up to kick-off.

Rugby League World 2021 Created By Funding Project. Siddal ARLFC, Halifax, West Yorkshire. Tracy Power, Luke Gale, Marc Lovering and Joe MacCormack (Picture: SWpix.com)

Leeds-born Gale, who lost the 2017 Grand Final with Castleford Tigers against Rhinos, said: “It was outstanding and a great advert for rugby league.

“Betfred, Super League and the RFL have all done a really good job putting that on.

“It’s been a terrible year but everyone involved in rugby league can hold their head up high.

“It was a great tribute to rugby league that that was the last game of this season; I applaud both for such a stand-out match.”

He has also been in touch with Wigan’s Sean O’Loughlin, his former England captain, and St Helens and England prop James Graham who were both playing their final game of glittering careers.

“I actually dropped them both a message midweek to wish them best of luck and to say I was privileged to be able to say I played with both,” revealed Gale.

“And both are absolute legends. It is used too often nowadays but, for me, those two epitomise the word legend. There always had to be one who missed out but, as Lockers said when he spoke so well afterwards, he left everything out there and his boys did as well. He’ll be proud.

“I spoke with Jamma (Graham) yesterday (Sunday). He’s a great character. I think he was a bit rough but what a way to go out for him.

“On so many levels it was an outstanding game and the best advert for rugby league I’ve seen in ages.”

While those two iconic players hang up their boots after a combined total of almost 1,000 career games, Gale has been busy ensuring things are in place to develop the next potential stars.

On Friday, Rugby League World Cup 2021 (RLWC2021) marked one year to go until the men’s and women’s double-header final takes place at Old Trafford, by announcing the latest recipients of its large grants for community clubs and organisations.

The three new CreatedBy projects, part of the tournament’s wider InspirationALL social impact initiative, have taken the total funding for large grants projects to more than £10m.

Siddal ARLFC, in Halifax, was one of the three clubs to receive funding along with St Helens outfit Thatto Heath Crusaders and Victoria Park ARLFC in Warrington.

As a RLWC2021 ambassador, Gale went along to Siddal to deliver a grant that will be used to convert an existing grass pitch to a carpet hybrid surface with floodlighting, providing the club with more pitch capacity to accommodate all its rugby league activity.

The former Bradford Bulls star, 32, said: “It is very rewarding.

“I’m a tiny part in the cog but I get the good job of going out and giving the big cheques to these communities where they are going to have a huge impact.

“We hit the £10m mark and it’s massively exciting. It’s something that’s close to my heart.

“I grew up at Middleton Marauders and I remember we didn’t have floodlights; when it was dark we used to have to point the car lights at the pitch!

“But some of the facilities they have now are first-class. It’s going to give the boys and girls a lot of years of fun and give the whole community of Siddal a well-needed boost.

“We don’t only want to deliver a great World Cup but a lasting legacy of new facilities and I think it’s really important.”

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