VIDEO: Wigan Warriors v Castleford Tigers – Prospect of final return the biggest driving factor for Tigers

PLENTY of things have changed in the year since Luke Gale memorably fired that dramatic golden point extra-time drop-goal to send Castleford Tigers to the Super League Grand Final.

Granted, 12 months on, they stand in the same position ahead of tonight’s battle with Wigan Warriors with Old Trafford awaiting the victors.

Castleford's Luke Gale. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Castleford's Luke Gale. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

But, as Gale proffers, things are a “bit different” this time around.

“Back then we were out in front – we were the hunted,” recalled the England scrum-half, with Castleford having finished top by a record 10-point margin.

“Now we’re doing the hunting. We’ve chopped and changed our side and have not had a consistent team throughout the year.

“But we’ve just always found a way (to win) and, in doing that, we’ve blooded some really good young kids who have got us to where we are now.

It was a year ago to the day (that semi-final win over St Helens) so everyone has spoken about it this week. We are in the Super League semis again – yet it’s strange as it doesn’t feel like the same.

Castleford Tigers’ Luke Gale

“It was a year ago to the day (that semi-final win over St Helens) so everyone has spoken about it this week.

“We are in the Super League semis again – yet it’s strange as it doesn’t feel like the same.”

That is because, as Gale suggested, all the talk now is elsewhere. They head to a Wigan team who have won their last eight games and are favourites to push on to Old Trafford.

With departing coach Shaun Wane taking charge at the DW Stadium for the last time of his seven-year reign, and so much on the line, the hosts are not going to show any signs of letting up.

OPTIMISTIC: Castleford's Luke Gale. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

OPTIMISTIC: Castleford's Luke Gale. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Reigning Man of Steel Gale, 30, admitted: “They always bring their game.

“They’re just unassuming, tough, aggressive and go about things week in, week out.

“We know it’s a massive task to go there and win but we’ve done it before. We’ve done it a few times.

“And that’s what you want in a semi-final – a great opponent.”

Castleford Tigers players dejected after defeat in last year's Grand Final. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Castleford Tigers players dejected after defeat in last year's Grand Final. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Castleford did win over there twice last year while it was a Jamie Ellis drop-goal – with Gale recovering from surgery on a broken kneecap – that saw Daryl Powell’s side edge home 19-18 at Wheldon Road in June.

That said, Wigan have won the other two meetings this term so all is set.

Gale returned from his four-month lay-off at the start of September, always hoping he would be in peak fitness for this crucial part of the campaign.

“It’s never good to get injured and there were plenty of dark times,” he recalled.

“But I always knew if things went according to plan I’d be back for this time of the season.

“The boys have been awesome getting us into this position where we’re in a semi-final again.

“The credit goes to them. They’ve been outstanding.

“Lucky for me, I’m back fit and have the chance now to help get us back to the Grand Final.

“It was just heartache what happened there last time, falling at the final hurdle (against Leeds).

“It’s been on my mind all year. We’re now 80 minutes away from getting the chance to go back and put that right.”

There always seems to be an injury story around semi-final time; last year Gale heroically came back to kick that winning goal barely two weeks after having his appendix removed.

Tonight, though, the narrative surrounds a half-back who misses out; Jake Trueman, the 19-year-old who led Castleford superbly during Gale’s absence but suffered a hand injury at St Helens last week.

Gale said: “He’s been awesome. He really is mature beyond his years. But one thing that gets overlooked is Truey’s toughness.

“I’ve yet to see any kids defend as well as he does and carry as well as he does and I can’t wait to see what he’s like in a couple more years’ time if he’s doing that at 19.

“He has really stepped up to the mark. He’s up for Super League Young Player of the Year and he deserves it as I can’t see anyone who’ll beat him. He’s been brilliant.

“It’s not nice seeing him injured and it’s not the right way to go out this season as he deserves to be in these big games.

“But it’s happened. We get on. And we’ve obviously got Benny (Roberts) who was awesome at stand-off last year.”

With players of Roberts’s ilk and fit-again captain Michael Shenton, it is no surprise Castleford – who have lost just one of their last six games – remain confident.

Even if last year’s last-gasp drama is unlikely to be recreated, it certainly has all the portents of a suitably classic affair.