Gale: “Playing in the World Cup is a massive achievement anyway, but to do it on home soil would be even more amazing so I’m definitely looking forward to it”
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 10/06/20 3:14pm
With under 500 days to go until next year’s Rugby League World Cup, Luke Gale is already playing his part in the tournament off the field.
However, the Leeds Rhinos half-back and RLWC2021 ambassador wants to ensure he is involved on the pitch too when the sport’s global gathering kicks off at St James’ Park in Newcastle next October.
Gale played in every match of England’s 2017 campaign under Wayne Bennett as they finished runners-up to co-hosts Australia and, having been named in new national team head coach Shaun Wane’s initial 31-man squad, is eager for another crack at world glory.
“It’s kind of a strange thing,” Gale told Sky Sports. “I’m talking about it, but I’ve got one eye on getting in the team as well. It’s great from both sides.
“The experience I had in 2017 was amazing, obviously going down by the narrowest of margins against Australia in the final.
“So, how good would it be to turn the tables on them on home soil?
“Playing in the World Cup is a massive achievement anyway, but to do it on home soil would be even more amazing so I’m definitely looking forward to it. I might be 31 years old, but I’ve still got an eye on next year.”
Gale’s recall to the England set-up comes on the back of a fine start to the currently suspended Super League season with new club Leeds, having missed the 2018 series against New Zealand and the 2019 Great Britain southern hemisphere tour due to injury.
During his absence, Sam Tomkins and Richie Myler pulled on the No. 7 shirt in England’s 2-1 series win over the Kiwis two years ago, while heritage player Jackson Hastings took on the scrum-half role for all four of last year’s Lions Tests.
Indeed, the half-back partnership in general proved a conundrum Bennett never seemed quite able to solve. For example, Gale partnered Gareth Widdop for the first two 2017 World Cup group games and then Kevin Brown for the remainder of the tournament when Widdop moved to full-back.
St Helens star Jonny Lomax and George Williams, currently impressing for Canberra Raiders in the NRL, are waiting in the wings too and many pundits are keen to find out what Wane views as his ideal half-back partnership.
The cancellation of this winter’s Ashes series due to the coronavirus pandemic means the England boss is searching for another opponent to fine-tune his side against, but Gale is concentrating solely on making sure he takes one of the places up for grabs.
“George Williams going over to Australia has started his campaign well, you’ve got Lomax, myself – and Gaz Widdop missed out on the initial squad, so he’ll be wanting to get himself back in the picture,” Gale said.
“I suppose there is plenty of water to go under the bridge until 2021, but from a player’s point of view all you can do is keeping turning up week in, week out and putting the good performances in – and hopefully that gets you picked.
“That’s all I used to think in 2017 and obviously I’ve missed out the last couple of years due to injury, but as long as you’re taking care of your performance week to week, the bigger accolades come off the back of that.”
England avoided old rivals Australia in the draw for the 2021 group stages too by virtue of both being seeded, although it was confirmed on Wednesday that they will both be making Manchester their training base for the tournament.
The host nation is, however, up against familiar opponents France and Samoa in Group A, along with debutants Greece, who overcame huge obstacles in their homeland which led to them having to play home qualifiers overseas.
At the same time, England’s women face will diverse opposition in the form of Canada and Brazil in the group stages of their tournament, while the wheelchair team’s opponents include Spain and Norway.
Gale is also excited to see so many teams from beyond rugby league’s traditional boundaries earning the right to take on the established nations.
“It’s amazing and there are so many side stories to these games,” Gale said. “I suppose [Greece] playing against England would be the pinnacle of their careers.
“I’ve played Samoa before – they’re a great side who are getting better and better – and I made my debut against France in Avignon [in 2016] so that will be kind of special as well. There are so many different plots and it’s super exciting.
“Just looking at the videos on the social platforms, it sent shivers down my spine just how entertaining it is.
“We’ve got the wheelchair and the women’s World Cups running alongside as well, and I think it will be the biggest and best World Cup ever – and hopefully England will lift the trophy.”