Man of Steel award won't come between Gale and Hardaker

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Luke Gale assures he will be the first to congratulate Zak Hardaker should his Castleford Tigers team-mate pip him to the 2017 Man of Steel award.

The Castleford scrum-half has been nominated for the accolade for the first time, while Hardaker claimed in 2015 as part of Leeds Rhinos' treble-winning side.

Gale's playmaking abilities proved key as the Tigers romped to the League Leaders' Shield and his golden-point drop-goal against St Helens last Thursday earned their place in the Grand Final.

After a stint in the NRL with Penrith Panthers, full-back Hardaker has impressed upon his return to England with 126 tackle busts - the third highest in the competition - and 11 tries.

The pair face competition from Hull FC's Albert Kelly, but Gale is simply looking forward to enjoying the occasion with a close team-mate on Tuesday.

He told Omnisport: "The season's gone well individually and collectively as a team and it's a great honour to be on the shortlist for that award.

"The lads have [made jokes about it]. To be honest, with everything that's gone on I've not really thought about it which is good.

"We'll go and enjoy the night, whoever wins. If Zak wins he fully deserves it. I'm sure whoever wins will be the first one to shake the other's hand."

Gale's heroics against Saints came just over two weeks after having his appendix removed, leaving him unsure about his chances of returning this season.

Asked if he thought his campaign was over, he said: "Yeah, at a point, obviously not knowing the full extent of the injury and the operation really.

"It was the best-case scenario that actually happened, key-hole surgery and everything went well and touch wood that everything did go well and I'm here fighting fit."

Castleford's opponents at Old Trafford on Saturday will be Leeds, Brian McDermott's side bouncing back magnificently after being consigned to the Qualifiers in 2016.

However, the Rhinos will be without back-row forward Stevie Ward, who sustained a dislocated shoulder in Friday's semi-final victory over Hull.

"He was in pain and they couldn't get his shoulder in on Friday night, so he spent all night with gas and air and they had to put him under to put his shoulder back," McDermott said.

"But he's turned up this morning [Monday] and I don't think the long-term part of it is going to be that bad.

"I don't know too much. He's actually in Manchester seeing a dude to get it checked out and see what damage has been done, but obviously he's in a bad way with it but I don't think there's a reconstruction type injury with it.

"It is [a blow]. He's been a big part of why we've been good, Stevie."

Asked whether the injury would rule Ward out of the Rugby League World Cup, with head coach Wayne Bennett set to announce his squad next week, McDermott said: "There's a chance it won't, that's all I can say."