Luke Gale has vowed to recapture his Steve Prescott Man of Steel form for Castleford Tigers in 2019 – but not by making the “same mistake again” and rushing back from injury.
The England scrum-half is currently recovering from his second knee surgery of the year.
Gale missed four months of last season due to a fractured kneecap, only making his return in the campaign’s last few weeks as he looked to help to push them to a maiden Super League title.
However, frustrated Castleford – beaten 2017 Grand Finalists – fell short, losing their semi-final 14-0 at eventual champions Wigan Warriors having also been kept pointless the week before at St Helens.
Gale was clearly far from his best in both games and it later emerged he had still been suffering with the knee injury.
It was, then, decided the 30-year-old would undergo a second operation, ruling the 2017 Man of Steel out of England’s series against New Zealand.
He is now well on his way to recovery again but conceded he has learned lessons from the harsh experiences.
“We knew – both me and our physio Matty Crowther – that the knee wasn’t right or it wasn’t 100 per cent,” Gale told The Yorkshire Post, having started pre-season training this week.
“He sat me down after that Wigan game and told me he thought we needed to go back in again and fix it properly.
“I knew that but told him it was a big decision to miss England. In the end, Matty essentially told me it needed doing.
I knew that but told him it was a big decision to miss England. In the end, Matty essentially told me it needed doing.Luke Gale
“It was good of him to do that; it took it all out of my hands.
“The surgery went well. They’ve done a bit of a microfracture that was still there from the first time and I can see the difference. I should have done it the first time if I’m honest.
“There was three bits but if I’d have done that I’d have had no chance of playing again this year – and we always had the chance of getting a Grand Final.
“I took a chance – I just had two bits done – and it didn’t work out.
“But I don’t think even if I’d have been fully fit we’d have beaten Wigan; they were just the better team.
“We’re not a one-man team and I could have had four legs and it wouldn’t have been any different!
“But I probably was frustrated knowing I wasn’t fully fit, not at the top of my game.
“As for now, we’ve been back in this week and I’m just trying to rehab. I ran on Thursday for the first time since the op’. I did 10 lengths of the pitch. That was a good day.”
Castleford start the next Super League campaign at home to Challenge Cup holders Catalans Dragons on February 1.
Former Bradford Bulls captain Gale hopes to be fit for that opener but insisted: “After this last year, I won’t be rushing back.
“There is no timeline. Whenever I feel good and ready I’ll play, whether that’s round one or round four.
“I don’t think it will be any longer than round four but it will be right when it’s right; I’ve learned that from this year.
“My main aim and focus is getting fully fit and back to the form that saw me win Man of Steel in 2017.
“That’s where Cas want to be. That’s where I want to be. We’ll all be working hard in this off-season to get things right.”
Meanwhile, the Leeds-born playmaker, who started in the World Cup final against Australia 12 months ago, could only watch on as England secured another series victory over New Zealand. Wins at Hull and Anfield saw Wayne Bennett’s side go 2-0 up before the disappointment of a 34-0 defeat at Elland Road in the third and final Test.
England were missing 11 regular players that afternoon, though, including three half-backs.
“I thought overall it was awesome,” said Gale.
“Every time we get back together I can see the improvement.
“New Zealand brought a strong side over and I think plenty of people thought we’d struggle.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard watching; knowing I could potentially be out there did make it hard to take.
“But I’m an England supporter as well. I went to some of the games and Wayne’s done a great job again.”
England revert to Great Britain in 2019 for the first time in a dozen years as they head out on a tour of the southern hemisphere expected to include Tests against the Kiwis, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea.
Bennett takes charge in what is the final year of the revered Australian’s contract. But Gale would love to see him extend through to the 2021 World Cup with England, just as he would personally love to wear that famed Lions jersey for the first time .
However, first it’s Castleford. Getting fit. And nothing else.