Smith v Gale – Who will win on Friday, and who’ll play for England?

Luke Gale has won the 2015 Albert Goldthorpe Medal, as was revealed recently by League Express.

And the question now is whether Gale’s superb form in 2015 will cause England coach Steve McNamara to select him for the international squad when he announces it next month.

Gale was one of 35 possible members of the England squad who were invited to a gathering in Bury last week, which suggests that McNamara is aware of his performances this season. but when England played in the Four Nations in Australia in 2014 Wigan’s Matty Smith was the man in possession of the number 7 shirt. Smith and Gale will come up against each other this Friday when Wigan play Castleford at the DW Stadium.

If Wigan defeat the Tigers, while Leeds lose at Huddersfield, then the Warriors will win the League Leaders’ Shield, which will mean they will qualify for next season’s World Club Series.

Castleford might appear to have less motivation but, as we saw last week when they defeated Leeds at Headingley, they are determined to finish the season on a high.

On Friday night the battle between Smith and Gale will be a fascinating side issue that will be as interesting as the result itself.

If we compare Smith and Gale’s statistics for the season so far, the facts would seem to point in Gale’s favour.

As the comparison below reveals, using information from Opta Sportsdata, Gales has scored more tries and goals than Smith but, crucially, in other key areas of the game the stats suggest that he also seems to have performed better, especially on attack.

His 27 try assists are roughly double Smith’s 13, while has 55 tackle busts, compared to Smith’s 21.

He has made more attacking kicks than Smith, and although he has had fewer carries than his Wigan opponent, he has made more metres overall and more average metres per carry.

Gale has made 14 clean breaks – more than twice as many as Smith – and he has double Smith’s number of dummy-half runs.

Both players have almost the same number of handling errors, while Gale has made 15 offloads compared to Smith’s six.

On the other hand, Smith looks like a better defensive player, having made 475 tackles to Gale’s 407, and having made more marker tackles than his Castleford opponent.

Of course none of that means that Gale should automatically gain selection over Smith for England this autumn. After all, statistics can’t tell us how well an individual player fits into a coach’s game plan, and Smith has always been a reliable halfback for McNamara when he has been selected for England.

But it does mean that the Wigan and Castleford supporters will have a fascinating individual contest to watch on Friday night to supplement the battle between their two teams. It should be great fun to watch.

Stats comparison for Luke Gale and Matty Smith
Luke GaleMatty Smith
Missed goals2831
Drop goals13
Try assists
Marker tackles
Missed tackles
Tackle busts5521
Attacking kicks
Average gain
Clean breaks
Dummy-half runs
Handling errors
Penalties conceded2115