HAVING spent time at Cheltenham this week, Castleford Tigers’ Luke Gale knows all about ‘the going’ and in more ways than one.
Although the Man of Steel – a keen racegoer who part-owns racehorses – has had a mixed bag with his returns from the famous festival, he is well-versed with conditions underfoot.
The heavy ground has also made life difficult for plenty of Super League sides, including usually free-flowing teams like Castleford, who host Wigan Warriors today in what could be the match of the weekend.
That said, the beaten Grand Finalists have still only lost one of their opening four games and that was the first fixture of the season at St Helens.
For all that last season’s emphatic League Leaders’ Shield winners have yet to find their stunning best, England scrum-half Gale is not concerned in the slightest.
He said: “I learned last year no-one remembers the first four games. We ended up winning the league (shield) but, to be honest, no-one remembers that either.
“It’s all about that one night in October; it’s more in our heads now that we have to be peaking then and on that (Grand Final) night. Last year, we probably learned more in that 80 minutes than we did all last season.
“We’re still knocking off wins, though without being outstanding. Last year, we came out and hit our straps from round one. It’s been a bit different this time but we’re happy with where we’re going. We’re not worried.
“Saints came out in their first game and set the marker down. We’re slowly getting there. We’re not worried. We’re still working on some combinations.”
Those include his own half-back partnership with Jamie Ellis while, after Zak Hardaker’s sacking, Benny Roberts has reverted from No 6 to full-back.
Gale added: “Jamie’s a really good player. He’s started the season off really well and it’s just getting those combinations right.
“Benny’s started at full-back and he’s adjusting well. He’s getting better each week and was outstanding in the win against Salford on Sunday.
“He came up a couple of try-saving tackles. You’ll see the best of him when the ground firms up; he doesn’t like this soft ground and weather! He’ll come good. He’s a world-class player.”
Castleford have an impressive recent record over Wigan with Daryl Powell’s side hoping for a fifth successive win today.
When Shaun Wane’s team last visited Wheldon Road in April, they were annihilated 54-4, arguably the display that made people finally take Tigers seriously.
Gale, 29, added: “I’m sure Shaun Wane will mention that to them. Getting tonked by someone always sticks in your mind. But they have started really well and it will be a challenge.
“They’ll be the same as Wigan always are; a good, aggressive side. They’re throwing the ball about a bit and everyone seems to be playing well. It’s always a good clash against Wigan and I’m sure it’ll be a great contest. We have a few tough matches coming up. We’ll have to be on our game.”
There was some surprising news this week when Warrington stand-off Kevin Brown – whom Gale partnered for England in the World Cup final last December – announced his international retirement.
That will potentially see Wigan’s George Williams, largely overlooked during the World Cup, take a step closer to making an England half-spot his own.
Gale said: “I’ve not spoken to Kev. We’re all in a message group and I sent him one saying: ‘Look mate, it’s been a pleasure and great working alongside you.’
“I love playing alongside Kev. I’m not sure why he has (retired) but I wish him all the best.
“He’s done really well for England, is a good pal, a great player and he’ll be missed. George, my old (England) room-mate, is playing well. He looks real sharp and our right-edge will have to be on form to manage him Sunday.”
Finally, how did the Cheltenham Festival treat him this year?
“First day not so well, second day was a bit better and hopefully... we’ll get this interview wrapped up so I can get off and see a third day,” said Gale.
“We actually went Tuesday on chance, really. Me and Adam Milner bumped into our agent Craig Harrison and it was a good day.
“I’ve been a few times but it was good for Adz as it was one off his bucket list; the atmosphere is outstanding and Adz loved it.
“He had a bit of beginner’s luck as well. I think he won a few quid.”
France international Gadwin Springer is set to make his first appearance of the season for Castleford in place of suspended Oliver Holmes, who picked up a one-match ban for a dangerous tackle against Salford.