By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 02/10/20 4:18pm
Given he is one of the most talented half-backs of his generation, it may come as a surprise that Luke Gale has never played in a Challenge Cup semi-final.
Up until this year, the furthest the 32-year-old had gone in the historic knock-out competition was the quarter-finals stage with during his spells with Bradford Bulls and Castleford Tigers.
A 48-18 victory for his current club Leeds Rhinos over Hull Kingston Rovers in the quarters last month ensured that will no longer be the case and Gale cannot wait to take on Wigan Warriors in Saturday’s first semi-final at Totally Wicked Stadium.
“I’ve had a terrible run, to be fair,” Gale said. “When I was at Castleford, I think we drew Hull FC twice and they went on to win it and it was St Helens another time.
“You want a change of luck and a new club has brought that.
“It’s just one of those things, sometimes you’re lucky on a cup run and sometimes you’re not.
“It’s never quite happened for me, but luckily enough we’re in a semi-final against Wigan and it’s something I’m massively excited about.”
It’s never quite happened for me, but luckily enough we’re in a semi-final against Wigan and it’s something I’m massively excited about.
The Challenge Cup was a part of Gale’s life even before he got his start in professional rugby league, with annual coach trips to Wembley for the final with his family.
Watching Leeds’ victory over London Broncos in the 1999 final, which saw Leroy Rivett named Lance Todd Trophy winner after scoring four tries, is one particularly fond memory for him and being able to follow in those footsteps as a Rhinos player is now the target.
“My dad used to take me every year no matter what team got there, so playing in one would be massive,” Gale said.
“We went with the local pub and we used to love them. The whole family went, and I enjoyed those days.
“Playing rugby has been in my family for years, so I’ve been a fan from playing from six years old and then every year we’d do a trip to Wembley.
“It was great seeing your idols run out at Wembley, and it’s famous pitch and famous stadium so it would have been a vision.”
In terms of playing, Gale’s first experience of the Challenge Cup came on loan with Doncaster in 2008, featuring in the 44-16 win over Leeds Metropolitan University at Headingley – the first time a student side had met a professional team in the competition’s history – in round three.
That followed by a 38-12 fourth-round defeat to Widnes Vikings in which a 19-year-old Gale scored a try and it is still a moment which he recalls fondly.
“I think I did a little play with Luke Burgess and he went through and set me back up,” Gale said. “It’s great and that’s the story of the Challenge Cup.
“It hasn’t happened this year because of the covid situation, but you get some great stories. There are probably a few more twists and turns to go yet.”
Gale already has experience of winning a semi-final, having slotted the extra-time winner in Castleford’s 23-22 victory over St Helens in the 2017 Super League play-offs which sent the Tigers to the Grand Final for the first time in their history.
He knows his drop goal kicking, which he has already showcased in Super League this year, could come into play against Wigan on Saturday too and – along with several of his team-mates – is well-prepared in case that scenario arises.
I practise [drop goals] most days. We’ve had about 10 do them in training on Friday morning and they’ve been going in every stand!
“I practise most days,” Gale said, adding: “We’ve had about 10 do them in training on Friday morning and they’ve been going in every stand!
“It’s one of those you practise all of the time and just slot a few after training.
“It should be a tight game and I think the weather will play a part as well, so the kicking game will be massively important as well.
“We’ve prepared well, we’ve left no stone unturned and it’s down to gameday now.”