LUKE GALE says a solitary chat in new Coach of the Year Daryl Powell’s “mansion” made him realise he had to sign for Castleford Tigers – and now he is Man of Steel and aiming for Grand Final glory against the club that discarded him as a teenager.
The England scrum-half was last night crowned Super League’s finest player at an awards dinner in Manchester as the build-up to Saturday’s Old Trafford showpiece versus Leeds Rhinos continued.
Gale has been superb this term, one of the principal reasons behind Castleford’s charge to a maiden League Leaders’ Shield and he will be key if the West Yorkshire club are to become champions for the first time in their long history.
However, it was only three years ago that Gale was relegated with crisis-torn Bradford Bulls, a development that led to his move to Wheldon Road and eventual international honours.
“I can remember meeting Daryl for a coffee in his mansion – he has a big farmhouse (near Pontefract) – and we had a chat,” he recalled.
“We probably spoke footy for about an hour. I remember ringing my agent and saying, ‘I want to sign for Cas’.
“So it was probably after an hour’s chat that I knew I wanted to play for him. The rest is history.
“They’d just come back from Wembley (2014 Challenge Cup final loss to Leeds) so I knew what direction he was going in.
“He’s very determined is Powelly and knew just where he wanted to take the club. I wanted to be a part of it.
“I owe him everything really and his staff as well – they are outstanding. He’s been real good for me. He’s taught me the skills of a half-back; I’ve learned my trade more and what he’s made here is a superb team; I can’t speak highly enough of him.”
Now 29, Gale is in the form of his life more than a decade on from being released by hometown Leeds where he failed to make a first-team appearance.
Part of the reason for that was the presence of international halves Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow who, with a combined total of 910 matches in the blue and amber, each play their final game for Rhinos on Saturday.
“I was with the academy and did a year with the first team in pre-season,” recalled Gale, who is expected to be England’s No 7 at the World Cup later this month.
“Obviously, Danny and Rob were in front of me and that’s how I’ve known Danny a lot of years.
“It’s quite fitting really; I’ll be playing a Grand Final with him in front of all these fans on his last hurrah. He’s a really good fella.
“Himself, Rob and Kev (Sinfield) helped me out a lot. Obviously, they’ve all gone on to be world stars and it was quite hard to kick them out of their position at 18 so I had to go elsewhere.
“It was hard being told. Obviously, I’d been at Leeds since probably 12 years old in the scholarship system, had grown up there and it was disappointing.
“But you’ve just got to move on and keep trying.
“I went to Doncaster. We’ve both come our different routes, shall we say.”
Gale joined part-timers Doncaster on loan from Leeds in 2007 and was named National League Two Young Player of the Year the following season, never losing belief he would succeed eventually.
“When I was there, I worked with my dad,” he added.
“It was only part-time. I did some manual labour and it was only six weeks. I say six weeks, but my dad says I lasted six days.
“I told him it wasn’t for me and that I was playing rugby instead.
“It just made me more determined, if I’m honest. But Doncaster was good. You were playing against adults there and I learned to run a team at a young age. I think it gave me a good grounding, really.”
Indeed, his try-scoring and creative talent alerted Harlequins (London Broncos), who brought him back into the top flight.
“It was Brian McDermott there who gave me my first Super League game so there’s a few different stories in this (Grand Final),” he added, coach McDermott now hoping to earn a fourth Super League title with Leeds since leaving London in 2010.
“He was good. He was straight with his ways, but he helped me massively and gave me my first shot so, yes, I owe him a bit.
“I had a lot of good people down there. People like Luke Dorn, Chad Randall, Danny Orr and they helped me massively. I think they were really crucial towards my career, really.”
Gale has helped Castleford string together eight successive wins against Leeds, their last loss being at Headingley more than two years ago.
Nevertheless, given Rhinos’ rich history on Grand Final night, he realises the Tigers face a significant task to maintain that run.
“We’ve already spoken about that,” said Gale.
“We all need to be at our best; Leeds are a great side, they’ve been to a lot of Grand Finals and they will come and play well.
“But there’s a lot of motivation in this side and I’m confident we have enough to lift the trophy.”
Rhinos build-up: Page 20