Castleford will seek salary cap relief to give themselves the option of signing a replacement if England scrum-half Luke Gale is ruled out for the entire 2019 season.
The 30-year-old, who was Super League’s Man of Steel in 2017, tore an Achilles tendon in a freak incident towards the end of a training session on Saturday and is booked in for surgery on Thursday.
Tigers rugby director Jon Wells confirmed the club’s worst fears at their pre-season media day in Pontefract, where Gale – who is expected to miss the entire campaign – was a noticeable absentee.
“He’s currently with a specialist who will determine the timeline for the injury,” Wells said.
“It’s likely to be a big chunk of the season, I would imagine the best-case scenario is six months, the worst nine to 12 months.
“The complicating factor is that he was in the middle of rehab from micro-fracture knee surgery and that has to stop now and be taken up again once the Achilles tendon repair is complete.”
Gale missed four months of the 2018 season with a broken kneecap and, although he made his comeback during the play-offs, he was forced to miss England’s Test series against New Zealand in order to undergo further surgery, which would have forced him to sit out the first month of the new campaign.
Wells expects the former Doncaster, Bradford and Harlequins half-back to cope with another major setback.
“We’re pretty gutted for him,” Wells said. “But mentally he’s very resilient so we’ve got no dramas there with him.
“He’s in a good head space but he’s going to need to be. It’s one of the most serious injuries you can get. I think it’s a big loss, not just for Castleford Tigers, but for rugby league and Super League as a whole.”
Wells confirmed the club are close to the salary cap and would need to seek dispensation from the Rugby Football League to sign a replacement, although coach Daryl Powell has the option to bring in experienced duo Jamie Ellis and Ben Roberts to partner teenager Jake Trueman in the halves.
The loss of Gale also moves former Sheffield Eagles half-back Cory Aston a step closer to making his Super League debut.
“We’re still working through the options we have but, if it is decided we need to go into the market, that is something we’ll address when that time comes,” Wells said.
“If Luke was ruled out for the season, we’d be approaching the RFL for salary cap relief and then we’d be be looking to go into the market for a replacement.
“But there are a lot of options on the table at is stands. We don’t have a marquee player and one of the benefits of Daryl’s philosophy over the last couple of years is a deep squad.”
Powell said: “It’s a tough situation – we’re not going to hide away from that – but we’ll just get on with it.
“We’ve got three options there and we can adapt. One of the things I think we’ve been really good at is adapting to difficult situations over the last few years.”
Castleford open their 2019 campaign against Catalans Dragons at the Mend-a-Hose Jungle on Friday, February 1.