Castleford Tigers v Leeds Rhinos: Classy Cas will not eschew attacking principles

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CAPTAIN Michael Shenton says it is in his side’s “blood” to adopt the ‘Classy Cas’ style but admits they may have to rein in those attacking tendencies tonight to prosper in their maiden Super League Grand Final.

The West Yorkshire club’s offensive quality has been well-documented this term, Daryl Powell’s free-flowing side racking up 166 tries on the way to a first League Leaders’ Shield.

Castleford's Michael Shenton is congratulated by his team-mates after scoring a try against Wigan (Picture: SWPIx.com)

Castleford's Michael Shenton is congratulated by his team-mates after scoring a try against Wigan (Picture: SWPIx.com)

To put that into perspective, their nearest rivals were Leeds Rhinos – this evening’s opponents at Old Trafford – and defending champions Wigan Warriors each with 128.

They first earned the moniker Classy Cas in the 1960s for their attractive football but is there pressure to maintain that flair and dash this evening and attempt to lift the championship for the first time in fitting style?

“It’s a brand of rugby we do play and a certain way; nothing will stop that,” admitted Shenton, the dynamic centre who has arguably benefitted most from Powell’s beliefs.

“It’s bred into us now. We’ve been doing it all season. There’s definitely bits, personally, when we review games, that I think we do go after too much at times.

For me it’s an honour to be part of this team, to captain it and to be part of the first team to come to a Grand Final with Cas.

Michael Shenton

“But when it’s in your blood it’s hard to stop that. Depending on conditions and how the game is going there’s certain times – and last Thursday (semi against St Helens) was the perfect opportunity when we had a 10 point lead – to start controlling the game a little bit better.

“We came up with some really soft errors that really came back to hurt us. We’re fortunate that we had so much character in the team to get ourselves out of trouble again.

“But I think those lessons will have to be learnt – and we don’t want to learn them the hard way Saturday night.”

Shenton’s devastating link with scrum-half Luke Gale and winger Greg Eden down Castleford’s left-edge, with Zak Hardaker interjecting from full-back, has been a key component of Tigers’ success in 2017.

Michael Shenton goes over to score a try for St Helens during the Engage Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford, Manchester., in 2011 (Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/ PA Wire)

Michael Shenton goes over to score a try for St Helens during the Engage Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford, Manchester., in 2011 (Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/ PA Wire)

Admittedly, that balance is now lost somewhat due to Hardaker being dropped two days before the final due to a “breach of club rules,” an untimely episode they could do without. Eden, in all likelihood, will switch to full-back with Jy Hitchcox probably coming in on the wing although the return of rugged second-row Oli Holmes will restore some much-needed equilibrium to their favoured left-side partnerships.

Having come so far, and impressed so vividly, Castleford are adamant they can now finish the job even against a Leeds club who are so steeped in Grand Final history with a record seven wins since 2004.

For Shenton, having lifted the League Leaders’ Shield on a famous night at Wheldon Road barely seven weeks ago, he admits to envisaging what it would be like to raise the Super League trophy above his head in front of a capacity 74,000 crowd in Manchester tonight.

The 31-year-old said: “It would be massive. We’ve a taste for a bit of silverware now and have made some history so far this year.

Castleford Tigers head coach Daryl Powell

Castleford Tigers head coach Daryl Powell

“It only makes you more hungry to take the next step and take the big one. We’re in a position to do that and it’s set up for a perfect game – first v second is what everyone should want.

“For me it’s an honour to be part of this team, to captain it and to be part of the first team to come to a Grand Final with Cas.

“I know how much it means to the fans and believe me everytime I see someone in the street now they’re telling me how special a year it’s been. They’re so proud of us. They’re an incredible set of supporters and I want to see the best of them on Saturday night.”

Coincidentally, it is 10 years to the day that Castleford played in another Grand Final – the 2007 National League One affair to earn promotion back into Super League.

Shenton, who scored in the game, is the only current Tigers player still remaining from the side that vanquished Widnes Vikings 
42-10 at Headingley.

Furthermore, that second-tier contest is a reminder of just how far the club has come, as is the fact they almost ended up in administration just four years ago. After Hardaker’s exclusion, Shenton is now set to be the only Castleford player playing tonight who has featured previously in the Old Trafford showpiece.

It was during his two-year stint with St Helens that the Pontefract-born England international, who emerged from Castleford’s academy, played in the 2011 Grand Final.

He scored against Leeds but then dislocated his elbow and was off the field as Saints succumbed, undone by the brilliance of Rob Burrow, the Rhinos livewire who makes the last appearance of his splendid career this evening.

Shenton recalled: “It was a tough night to take overall but it’s nice to look back and take some positives out of it and the build-up to a Grand Final.

“I was playing in a team there that had so much experience of it; they were so casual and calm about it. There was a bit of pressure as there was that losing run that Saints were on (they had lost four successive finals since beating Hull FC in 2006) so there was that motivation behind it.

“But I just remember how tight it was and how wet it was and the way we fought our way back into the game.

“I remember warming up, seeing how steep the sides of the stands were, the atmosphere building up and how loud it all is. You just know it will live with you for ever. But I think what I learned from that was it was very emotional that night. And sometimes you have to take that out of it a little bit.”

Powell taking his squad to Old Trafford on Monday should certainly have helped them get acquainted ahead of the main event and reduce some tension.

Meanwhile, Shenton hopes to be in Wayne Bennett’s England World Cup squad on Monday so has one last chance to impress.

He said: “I actually have no idea what’s happening with that. I don’t need any extra motivation other than doing my job for Cas.

“But if anything comes on the back of that then even better.”