Reflective Luke Gale realises he has to get over his Grand Final disappointment quickly if he is to make the most of a World Cup chance with England.
As expected, the Man of Steel was yesterday named in Wayne Bennett’s squad for the tournament that starts against Australia in Melbourne on October 27.
Scrum-half Gale is hoping to get the nod at No 7 following his excellent campaign with Castleford Tigers.
However, that ended in painful circumstances when Daryl Powell’s side – who raced to a maiden League Leaders’ Shield in impressive style – suffered a woeful 24-6 Grand Final defeat against Leeds Rhinos on Saturday night.
It was the West Yorkshire club’s first experience of the Old Trafford showpiece, but one they will want to forget in a hurry after a mistake-ridden display ruined any hopes of becoming champions for the first time.
Asked how hard it would be to lift himself for England duty, Gale said: “I have to lift myself for England.
“I have to dust this one down and, all being well, get picked. We fly off Thursday.
“We (Castleford) saved our worst for the biggest occasion. It was a real disappointing performance from one to 17.
“I’ve never played in a game where our team have made that many errors. It’s a hard one to take on a stage like this and playing nothing like we have all year.
“There was so many errors; you couldn’t win an amateur game with that many errors.
“We didn’t see it coming. To be fair to Leeds, they played well; they handled the occasion better than us.
“They had a few errors too, but our errors put us under pressure. It was just a disappointing night.”
Gale, 29, joined his club-mates for their traditional Mad Monday outing in Dublin yesterday, but will be back in Manchester today to link up with the international squad as they prepare to depart for Australia.
Surprisingly, only second-row Mike McMeeken from Castleford joins him on that plane.
Tigers had five English players in the Super League Dream Team, but while Gale and McMeeken secure their national places, both captain Michael Shenton and the competition’s top try-scorer Greg Eden have missed the cut in Bennett’s 24-man squad.
A third player – Zak Hardaker – was a shoo-in, but the RFL would not consider him for selection after details emerged last week that the England full-back had failed a drugs test.
Castleford were informed of that news barely 48 hours before their Grand Final date and duly dropped the in-form 25-year-old, who was runner-up to Gale in the voting for Man of Steel.
It caused havoc with their plans given Hardaker had been such an integral part of their side all season although Gale refused to use the late upheaval as an excuse for their pitiful display.
“We’ve not really spoken about it to be honest,” he said, when asked how disruptive the whole episode was.
“That’s been dealt with. It’s not ideal to lose your full-back of that magnitude, but it is what it is and I can’t really comment.”
Many had envisaged Gale, centre Shenton, Hardaker and perhaps even Eden replicating their left-edge combination for England, but the scrum-half will be going it alone now.
Gale fared well during the mid-season 30-10 win against Samoa in Sydney alongside Kevin Brown so he is in possession of the jersey.
However, rival halves Gareth Widdop and George Williams were both injured then and are now fit again ahead of the World Cup so competition is stiff.
Gale made his Test debut in France 12 months ago and played all the games in last season’s Four Nations before being left-out for the crucial last fixture against Australia, something he will hope isn’t repeated in Melbourne.
His kicking game has been stellar this term although he struggled on Saturday.
The former Bradford Bulls star insisted: “We didn’t get to the fifth and last. They probably doubled our (number of) kicks and put our wingers and full-back under a lot of pressure that we didn’t handle too well. We said we couldn’t have played much worse in the first half and we were only 7-0 down. Yet we came back out in the second half and played even worse. It’s tough to take.
“I wouldn’t have minded being beat, but being beaten like that is massively disappointing.
“We’ve never knocked on that much all season so I’d say maybe you can put it down to the occasion. Leeds certainly handled it better than us.”