The news of Luke Gale’s potentially season-ending injury spread like wildfire on Sunday afternoon leading to Castleford Tigers putting out a statement confirming that their star halfback and former man of steel was looking at another long layoff from the game after injuring his Achilles tendon. But what does this mean for the Tigers?
The club still have four halfbacks on their books that can look to fill the void left by the influential Gale.
Jake Trueman was a standout for Castleford last year, going on to win the Young Super League Player of the Year. Of course, Gale was absent for around half of Castleford’s games last season and Trueman ably stepped up into his shoes.
He will, no doubt, become one of Super League’s best halfbacks in years to come, but with Cas set to rely on him even
more in 2019, it might begin to weight him down.
Ben Roberts is still with the Tigers and could play a role for the club in the halves in the absence of Gale. The former Canterbury Bulldog was used in a variety of positions in 2018 to accommodate the emergence of Trueman and to cover up the loss of Zak Hardaker. But Roberts may have to move back into the halves in 2019. But time is not on his side as he approaches his 34th birthday in 2019.
Jamie Ellis could see this as an opportunity to earn a regular spot in the starting line-up for the Tigers. Ellis was used only sparingly for Castleford in 2018 after his move to the club from Hull KR. But he still made more appearances than Gale did last year and kicked the winning field goal for the club in their home win over Grand Final winners Wigan Warriors. There’s no doubt that Ellis can step in and do a job for the Tigers.
Meanwhile, Cory Aston begins his second year with the Tigers in 2019. In a promising first appearance for the Tigers in a year, Aston led the Tigers well against an unfamiliar Featherstone Rovers side leading to suggestions he might feature for the Tigers competitively in 2019 even before Gale’s injury. This new development won’t hinder his chances of gaining an opportunity at the Jungle that’s for sure.
While the Tigers also have players such as Paul McShane and Grant Millington that have featured in the halves in recent years, they surely won’t pull those key players out of their positions for any length of time.
Of course, the timing of Gale’s injury means that the Tigers have time to react and set things in place before the season begins. But one can say the same about Hardaker’s situation last year but that wasn’t resolved until midway through 2018.
The Tigers will need to move quickly if they are to sign a replacement. But with most squads now almost settled, it will be difficult to find a suitable player that a team is willing to offload so an in-house replacement might be on the cards.
While 2019 might not go as well as the Tigers had hoped for without Gale, the opportunities it presents others can be positive.
The season before Castleford’s stand-out year in 2017, the Tigers suffered huge injury problems allowing squad fringe players like Greg Minikin and Mike McMeeken to cement spots in the starting XIII. Fast forward 12 months and McMeeken is playing for England and is a Super League Dream Team member. Gale’s injury, while it is a tough blow for the club and the game as a whole, could be the very opportunity for which a young player has been waiting. Grasp it with both hands, and a new star could arise or be reborn.