I play my best footy with a smile on my face – Luke Gale relishing Keighley stay

I play my best footy with a smile on my face – Luke Gale relishing Keighley stay

After starring in Super League for over a decade and claiming the prestigious Man of Steel trophy in 2017, Luke Gale is relishing the start of an unlikely chapter in his glittering rugby league career.

The 34-year-old former Leeds and Castleford half-back admitted he contemplated retirement after a difficult 2022 campaign before finding a new focus in the form of resurgent Betfred Championship new boys Keighley.

Gale’s switch to the Cougars, who finished last season’s League One campaign with a 100 per cent record, raised eyebrows but felt like a logical fit for a player who had no desire for the remainder of his career to ebb away in the lower reaches of the top-flight.

Hull FC v Castleford Tigers – Ladbrokes Challenge Cup – Quarter-Final – KCOM Stadium
Luke Gale starred in Castleford’s march to the League Leaders’ Shield in 2017 (Richard Sellers/PA)

“I play my best footy with a smile on my face and last year I did become a bit disillusioned with the game,” admitted Gale.

“I’m the first to admit that I’d come home some days and say to my partner, I could be done here.

“You could see that I wasn’t happy and I probably had no love for it, hence the reason I took a bit of time off at the end of the year and tried to freshen things up.

“I’ve played 15 years in Super League and I don’t need to prove to anyone that I’m a Super League player. That’s why I was happy to take a step down, rather than going to a lower-end club just to play Super League for another year.”

Gale was recognised for playing a starring role in Castleford’s unexpected surge to the League Leaders’ Shield in 2017, and subsequently moved on to home-city club Leeds whom he helped to Challenge Cup success.

But a difficult season at Hull last term left him out on a limb, before a meeting with Cougars head coach Rhys Lovegrove through a mutual acquaintance convinced Gale to try his luck out of the game’s traditional bright lights.

“I had three months off rugby all together and was lucky enough to take a step back from rugby league and have some time with my kids,” added Gale, who was not short of offers, including a potential move to Australia.

“I was doing a bit of pre-season by myself when I had some chats with Rhys, and I got his vision and the way he thinks about the game.

“It was quite refreshing and it worked for me. I’m 34 years old and I’m not getting any younger or faster, but the minute I didn’t have any fire I’d walk away. I like the way Keighley play and there’s a buzz about it. Put all that together and it made sense.”

Leeds Rhinos v Salford Red Devils – Coral Challenge Cup Final – Wembley Stadium
Gale lifted the Challenge Cup with Leeds (Mike Egerton/PA)

Gale’s competitive bow for the Cougars will come in a daunting Championship opener at home to Sean Long’s title favourites Featherstone on February 6.

But while he knows he is bound to be the subject of his rivals’ attention, Gale is clearly itching to get started in a campaign that should see the Cougars join a competitive scrum for a play-off place.

“Everyone keeps asking me if I’ll have a target on my back and I guess we’ll see in round one against Featherstone,” added Gale.

“Hopefully we’ll make our mark in the Championship. We’re under no illusions because historically any team that comes up has struggled. We’re not saying we’re going to win the league, but we just want to be competitive and reach the top six.”