Video – Luke Gale determined fo fulfil his ‘burning ambition’ with Leeds Rhinos
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The 31-year-old scrum-half was a member of Rhinos’ successful academy side more than a decade ago, but at the time found his path to the first team blocked by Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow.
He left without making a senior appearance and had spells with Doncaster, Harlequins RL and Bradford Bulls before joining Castleford in 2015.
During his time at the Jungle he became one of the most influential players in the European game, but – as a Leeds lad – he confirmed playing for Rhinos has been a lifelong ambition.
“It’s an incredible story to be honest,” Gale said at a press conference yesterday to unveil him as Rhinos’ first off-season recruit.
“I was on the Rhinos’ books at 12 in the scholarship and it has come full circle.
“I’m very excited and there has always been a burning ambition to come back.
“I’m over the moon it has finally happened.”
Gale had two seasons left on his Castleford contract, but said he would have regretted it for the rest of his life if he hadn’t taken Leeds’ offer.
“That’s why I wanted to come back,” he added.
“I wanted the deal to happen and I didn’t want to look back when I was 40 and realise I didn’t pursue this Leeds deal.
“It was something I really wanted, I still believe I’ve got plenty of footy left in me and I can’t wait to show Leeds what I can do.
“There was definitely still a part of me that wanted to play for Leeds [when he left], but that wasn’t a tough decision because I had Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire in front of me –probably the best six and seven combination in Super League history.
“My mind was made up on that one. I went to Doncaster, a bit like Callum McLelland is doing now [on dual-registration at Featherstone Rovers], playing in a first team environment and learning a lot, running a team and kind of becoming a man.
“I have had a fair few clubs, but I am happy and privileged I am back here.”
Gale made exactly 100 Super League appearances for Tigers, but has not played this year due to an Achilles injury suffered during a pre-season training session in January.
He underwent a medical before signing for Rhinos and is confident he will be ready for the new campaign in four months’ time.
“I’m nearly there with the fitness and I’ll be training through the off-season to make sure I’m in Grade A shape for day one of pre-season,” he pledged.
“I’m sure the Leeds conditioners and physios will be helping me. I think four to six weeks and I’ll pretty much be nearly there, but we don’t play for four months so I don’t need to be rushing yet.
“I’ve got plenty of time and I’ll keep progressing.”
Gale has suffered a series of injury setbacks – including a fractured kneecap following an accidental collision with Wakefield Trinity’s Pauli Pauli last year – since being named Man of Steel at the end of the 2017 season, when Tigers finished 10 points clear at the top of Super League.
He knows he has to prove that he still has the form and fitness to make an impact at the top level.
“Since 2017 it has been a bit up and down, with more downs than ups,” Gale admitted.
“I have had a couple of tough injuries and I’m keen to get back fully fit and playing my best footy. I still think I’ve got my best footy ahead of me.
“I’m 31, but I still feel 25.
“That’s all I am looking to do, get back fit and I know I can have a massive impact on the Leeds team.”
Rhinos have battled against relegation in three of the past four seasons, the exception being two years ago when they beat Tigers in the Grand Final.
Gale, though, reckons things are looking up at Emerald Headingley.
“They have got an abundance of talented young players,” he said of his new side.
“You saw towards the back end of this season, when the shackles were off, they played better footy and you could see what they are capable of.
“I think with those young lads, mixed in with a bit of experience, we can go far.”
Knee surgery robbed Gale of a place in the England side against New Zealand last autumn and he admitted to being “massively” keen to regain his Test spot.
He said: “Throughout the whole injury process, the hardest thing to come to terms with is missing Great Britain [who begin a southern hemisphere tour this month].
“That’s one thing I’d love to do. There was a meeting probably two months ago and we tried on all the GB kit.
“The hardest thing to take was trying the GB kit and knowing I wasn’t going to be a part of it this year.
“I massively want to get back in the England set-up.”
Gale became a huge fans’ favourite during his five years at Castleford and – despite his enthusiasm over returning to Leeds – admitted it wasn’t easy saying goodbye.
“Castleford have been great to me and my career has gone skywards since I’ve been there,” he said.
“I came from Bradford to Castleford having never played for England and I’ve left with nine appearances for England and a league leaders’ medal and a Man of Steel medal as well.
“Castleford had a massive impact on my career and the coaching staff have all been great with me.
“Being there has had a positive impact on my career and I enjoyed my time there.
“It’s a great club and I wouldn’t have a bad word to say about them.
“There’s no hard feelings on my part and I hope their part too.”