It’s been a decade since Luke Gale cut his teeth as a youngster on the fringes of Super League at Harlequins, but the veteran halfback can still remember staying late to soak in all the advice that he could from the group’s senior stars.
“Danny Orr, Luke Dorn, Chad Randell,” he recalls.
“They all gave me a really good grounding at that early stage. We did lots of extras after training; I just wanted to tap into that mindset and potential. John Bastian before that at Leeds, in the Academy too.”
Ten years, a World Cup Final, a Man of Steel gong, three Albert Goldthorpe Medals and, finally, a richly deserved Challenge Cup winners’ medal later, Gale is getting ready to play his part in shepherding through the next crop of young talent at Leeds Rhinos, as Richard Agar’s side looks to continue its resurgence in 2021.
As one of a crop of senior halfbacks, alongside Rob Lui and Richie Myler, plus the newly arrived Kyle Eastmond, and following the departure of Adam Cuthbertson to York, the blue-and-amber skipper very much sits as one of the senior figures on the playing field this term, and he is relishing the chance to help foster the club’s next wave of talent.
“The boys are training hard, and the young lads are coming through as well,” he reflects. “I’m taking a backseat, and I’ve loved watching the younger lads come through. We’ve got some great kids who are on the verge of the first team.”
Gale himself has struggled during the off-season with a torn pectoral muscle but he hopes to be fit to return in the opening weeks of the season less than a month out.
“I’d be pretty positive about being back for round one or two. Everything has gone perfect up to a point,” he says.
But even if he isn’t able to make it back in time to kick off the new campaign, Gale knows that the future is still bright for the Rhinos, even with some youngsters who are also struggling with knocks.
“We’ve got Callum McLelland, who is hopefully going to turn into a great player, Corey Hall and Morgan Gannon, who have been fantastic, Harry Newman and Jack Walker, who have already burst onto the scene.”
Gale has already honed his experiences in mentorship through a side project he’s passionate about – his ‘Kicking for Grassroots’ foundation, which, before the pandemic interrupted, ran skills camps in schools and during the holidays for kids.
“I wanted to give back,” he reflects.
“You want to ensure these kids still have the avenue of sport to pursue if they want what Rugby League gave me. Sport has given me massive life lessons and values to enjoy.”
Gale has been relishing the opportunity to work with another kicking great in new Rhinos assistant coach Sean Long.
“He’s got a smart rugby brain,” says Gale.
“It’s been one of the most exciting parts of pre-season, to work with him, even if it hasn’t quite gone according to plan with my injury. I’m looking forward to the start of the season with him.”
Gale admits that he has been loving the role of mentoring young guns. So does see a coaching job in his future?
“If you’d asked me five years ago, I’d have said no chance. But as I get older, I do enjoy it. I wouldn’t mind coaching these lads at Leeds; they’re future superstars. But if you asked them, they’d say I’m too grumpy; it’d be a nightmare with me getting into them all day.”
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