Danny McGuire and Luke Gale are preparing to go into battle, just hours after cheering on the same horse!
The two halfbacks are part of the horse racing syndicate Champagne Charlies, a flourishing stable that was set up just over one year ago.
Both McGuire and Gale were both set to be in Newcastle on Wednesday evening cheering on one of their horses, Lady Cristal, as it finished third in the five-furlong handicap, just 24 hours before the two go to war on the field in the Betfred Super League clash between Leeds and Castleford.
“It’s a different one, isn’t it,” McGuire admitted.
“You get used to it. Over the years you play with players and stay friends with them, and then you play against them a couple of weeks down the line. You know it’s business on the field for 80 minutes and it is what it is. You pick your friendship up after the game.
“Me and Galey get on really well. We have the connection through Champagne Charlies, but we’re good pals on the side too. We often go for breakfast together along with Paul McShane too. We’ve got a keen interest in horse racing, but that will all be put on the side Thursday.”
Gale added: “To be fair, Danny is a very heated character on the pitch, a bit like me. We have a bit of crack on the pitch too, but there will be no love loss on Thursday.”
The syndicate involves a number of prominent names within Rugby League. Craig Harrison, the agent of both players, and Jamie Peacock are also involved.
The group all got together last year and decided to set up the stable, and within 12 months they have gone from owning one horse to seven and enjoyed plenty of success too.
“I’ve always been horse mad,” said Gale. “I’ve loved them since I’ve been a kid and I’ve got a passion for it. Being involved in this, you get a bit deeper, I look at the breeding and a horse’s pedigree and stuff like that. It’s a good pass time for me. It helps to get away from rugby sometimes because you can’t be on this job all the time. I’ll go up and watch the race and won’t even think about the game.
“We started off with just a few people chucking a few quid in as we just wanted a bit of fun. But it’s kicked off since then. It’s amazing to think a year ago we had one horse, now we have seven and we’ve had five or six winners.”
McGuire too admitted that the venture was a nice distraction at times, but revealed that he gets more nervous watching one of his horses in action than playing in a Grand Final!
“It’s quite nerve-wracking,” he said.
“Whenever you’re involved in something and you’re willing it to do well, there’s always a bit of pressure. It’s not going to win every time, but you just hope it comes back well. In a Grand Final you have more a role, but with the horses, you aren’t in control of the outcome, so I probably get more nervous for the horses to be honest.
“It’s just nice with the syndicate that you can own and be a part of something that is expensive to be a part of, but with it being a syndicate you can get all the same feelings for a smaller investment. It’s all good people.”
As for the game itself, both teams go into the match on the back of two consecutive wins, with Castleford top and still unbeaten.
Having seen him mate cause havoc already this season, McGuire conceded that the Rhinos will have to develop a strategy to nullify the England halfback.
“He’s playing really well and carried on his form from last year. From what I’ve seen of Cas this year he’s running the show again and we’ll have to keep a close eye on him without a doubt.
“We’ve built our foundation around not conceding many points, we’re still finding our feet with the ball a little bit and we’ll need to be a better there to trouble Cas with the ball in hand. We’ll have to be very strong defensively too.”
Gale added that, despite the superb nature in which the Tigers have started the season, they aren’t taking things for granted.
“We’ve started off really well, Leeds will come a bit different as we’ll go in favourites, so it’s a bit different as the tables have turned. But we’ll keep our feet on the grounds, our minds on the task and do nothing different to what we have done so far.
“We’re all grounded characters, we have no superstars, we’re just hard working players and what we do in the week gives us the confidence to go out there and play. We’re just building belief within ourselves. People are talking, and Cas have maybe never had that before, but our feet are firmly grounded.”