CASTLEFORD Tigers scrum-half Luke Gale prepares for England’s historic World Cup final admitting Grand Final heartache drives him on to what would be a famous, life-changing success.
He steps out for the biggest game of his career as they take on reigning champions Australia in Brisbane tomorrow.
Just two months ago, though, that title belonged to a maiden Old Trafford meeting against Leeds Rhinos.
However, after a brilliant season helping Castleford to a first-ever League Leaders’ Shield, things went badly wrong for the favourites in the match that mattered most.
They were vanquished 24-6 by Gale’s hometown team but he gets chance to banish that nightmare when England feature in a first World Cup final since 1995 and glory for the first time since Great Britain in 1972.
The reigning Man of Steel conceded: “Obviously, losing a Grand Final, it wasn’t a good experience, but you do learn from that.
“Watching Leeds win it was painful but it inspires you and makes you not want to go through all that again.
“Hopefully we won’t be on the receiving end of another loss in a final come Saturday.
“It’s a massive stage here, the biggest of my career and the biggest for many others too.
“But Wayne (Bennett) just keeps it nice and relaxed and keeps the boys happy. We’re ready for this.”
England’s players have the chance to gain ultimate legendary status if they can at last end almost half-a-century of near misses, anguish and torment although, understandably, Australia are sizeable favourites.
They have won 11 successive games against England, their last loss dating back to the opening game of that 1995 World Cup while coach Mal Meninga has still yet to suffer a defeat since taking over from Tim Sheens after they reclaimed the trophy in 2013.
Indeed, some bookmakers have them as 1/10 to win while head coach Bennett’s side are also given an 18-point start.
Asked if such odds are disrespectful for a final, Gale, who likes a flutter as part of a racehorse syndicate, said: “To be honest, that’s the first time I’ve heard those odds.
“But I’m not one to look at that. Look, it is a two-horse race but I’m confident if we go out there and perform, bring our best performance – and that’s what it will need, our A game – that we can win this.
“Who knows what can happen? But I am confident that the boys can put in a massive performance to do this on Saturday.”
What will be key is England’s kicking game which has come under scrutiny in this tournament with Gale – their principal kicker – realising it is crucial they get it right in the 80 minutes ahead.
He accepts he has been challenged but is confident, along with Kevin Brown and Gareth Widdop, they can combine to deliver a shock.
On the tactical battle ahead against the kicking prowess of newly-crowned Golden Boot winner Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, the 29-year-old said: “We know we have to get it right with our kicking, especially at this higher level.
“It is a lot harder to find grass here as they (Australia) play with three full-backs.
“It ends up being more what you’d call possession kicks. It is a lot tougher to kick at this standard. Our wingers do a great job (returning possession) and obviously they have Billy Slater who tries catching every ball on the full at full-back.
“If you watch State of Origin or NRL the majority of yardage kicks are caught on the full. It’s just how it is.
“It’s kind of a possession game – the long, high kicks that come – and you just play behind the kick-chase.
“You’ll see on Saturday that the opening 10 or 15 minutes there will be a lot of that. It then becomes the first team to break or who loses possession. It will be intense and a tough task but one we’re looking forward to.
“We broke them down a few times on the opening night and hopefully we can do the same again. Every time you step onto the field, you think you can get one over on the opposition.”
Gale, who hails from Middleton in Leeds, has seen his dad fly out to Australia this week in readiness for the massive occassion.
“It’s awesome having him here,” he said, his girlfriend now also having joined them.
“When I met him at the airport he was moaning about the weather – our training session the other day was the wettest I’ve ever took part in – and the price of beer.
“That’s my dad. He’s been to most games this year and to watch me everywhere whether England or when I was Under- 17s. It’s great to have my family here. He’ll be cheering from the stands on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, Gale wants to see Bennett–- whose two year contract expires after the final – stay on regardless of the result. The Australian, 67, has yet to give an indication of whether he would like to stay but Gale said: “I love him. I think he’s a great bloke. The lads love him and his company.
“He does the camp thing really well. We’ve been seven or eight weeks now, he’s obviously been involved in a lot of camps, be it Origin, New Zealand. He just gets it. I couldn’t speak highly enough about him. If you are not doing your job, he will tell you, but he is open and honest and that’s why blokes respect him so much.”