After a difficult 2022 with Hull FC, Luke Gale allowed cameras to follow him undergoing a personal training regime as he looked for a new club. ‘One More Challenge’ they called the short documentary, and it was newly-promoted Betfred Championship side Keighley Cougars who took the plunge to snap up the former Man of Steel and Challenge Cup final match-winner.
“It could probably be the last step of the journey in rugby league,” Gale told The Sportsman in February at the season launch event at Cougar Park. “I’m really looking forward to playing my final couple of years in the Championship with Keighley.”
But, less than three months later, the 34-year-old has found the call to have another crack at the Betfred Super League just a bit too appealing. Monday night’s announcement that Gale has left the Cougars for an 18-month stint with Wakefield Trinity comes at a time when the top-flight basement side need an injection of star quality to have any hope of extending their 25-year run in Super League.
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So far this season, Wakefield have lost 10 games out of 10, scoring only 53 points and being held scoreless five times. They have recorded double figures just twice and to this point have crossed the whitewash fewer times (nine) as a team than either Tom Johnstone of Catalans Dragons (11) or Leigh Leopards’ Josh Charnley (12) have managed individually.
Even their top scorer, Corey Hall, no longer plays for them having been sent to Hull Kingston Rovers in a desperate move to lure Will Dagger from Craven Park as they looked to solve their problem position at full-back. As Super League seasons go, this has started about as badly as any.
So you can see the appeal in bringing in Luke Gale. Fixtures against Castleford Tigers and Huddersfield Giants were arguably lost due to an inability to make the most of opportunities in the opposition 20, and this is where the former England scrum-half has made his name over the last 15 years.
Here until 𝟮𝟬𝟮𝟰. 👊
The problem for Trinity right now is that conversion of chances is not their only concern, and Gale alone is unlikely to be able to affect matches such as those against Wigan Warriors (twice), St Helens, Leigh, Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR in which the one-sided results were a consequence of Wakefield’s pack being too easily snuffed out. No half-back excels behind a forward unit that can’t make yards.
He is the latest addition to a Wakey squad which has seen various new faces brought in since the 2023 campaign got underway but alongside Dagger is only the second to commit his future to the club. Tom Forber, Sam Hewitt, Innes Senior and Rowan Milnes have all come in from fellow Super League clubs on short-term loan deals which have had little material effect so far.
All of which means that Gale will be under an awful lot of pressure to turn things around almost single-handedly under rookie coach Mark Applegarth, but then the former Castleford, Leeds and Bradford Bulls star is more than used to that, as he pointed out to The Sportsman back in February: “Wherever I sign there’s always going to be a certain bit of pressure but I put myself under that pressure anyway.”
While Keighley have claimed that the involvement of IMG in plotting rugby league’s future has led to Wakefield making a move on their star half, the honest truth of the matter is that Gale and the Cougars seem highly likely to be reunited as opponents in the Championship next season.
It will take the return of peak Luke Gale to dig Wakefield out of their current malaise.
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