DO NOT speak to Michael Shenton about Castleford Tigers’ excellent start to the season expecting too much excitement in return.
The prospect is almost futile. It is not that their captain is not proud of a run that sees them boasting a 100 per cent record having won all three games so far.
Far from it. Castleford’s impressive opening has been one of the talking points of the Super League campaign so far.
But the ex-England centre – currently in a second spell at his hometown club – is pragmatic enough to realise it matters little.
That is, of course, because Wigan Warriors, the reigning champions and Challenge Cup holders, arrive at Wheldon Road tomorrow bringing with them the real examination to test how much the side that finished 12th last term has truly advanced.
“We are delighted with things as it’s been a pretty good start,” Shenton told the Yorkshire Post.
“It’s come through a lot of hard work and that has paid off but none of it means anything now.
“It has been an ideal opening and it’s given us confidence but we’re looking at it as all being in the past now.
“We know we have a massive challenge this weekend against a top Wigan side.
“It’s a different kind of outfit to anything we’ve played yet; the level of performance has to go up.”
Up to press, Castleford have prospered at Bradford, eased past visiting Catalan Dragons 32-6 and then, last Friday, produced their first win at Hull KR in 21 years with another quietly impressive display.
Admittedly, none of those opponents have the prestige or firepower of Shaun Wane’s side who returned from their World Club Challenge meeting with Sydney Roosters in Australia to comfortably dispatch Wakefield Trinity Wildcats last Sunday.
However, Castleford, who see prop Nathan Massey back from injury for potentially his 100th career appearance tomorrow, garnered confidence from last June’s 18-4 win at Wigan, an early sign of their improvement under Daryl Powell.
The ex-Leeds Rhinos coach took over from Ian Millward last May after – in direct contrast to this term – they had won just one of their opening 11 fixtures.
Having initially steadied the ship, Castleford have certainly improved further under Powell’s leadership this time around with the help of some canny recruitment and judicious work on their previous defensive frailties.
“It’s not just Daryl who’s been great for us,” insisted Shenton.
“All our coaching staff – Danny Orr as assistant, Ben Cooper on conditioning – have all contributed and this is as much a team effort as anything.
“All the boys are buying into what we’re trying to do and changing the culture down here, having an appreciation of the history of this club, how the fans are so passionate about it and looking at some of the great players who have come through and represented Castleford too.
“Some of these things have been lost for a little while and we’re trying to put them back into the club. It’s important we all do that.
“As for Wigan, we’re confident going into the game and in the ability of our squad.
“But we know every single player has to improve a little bit on last week and be on top of their game.
“We know how important this match is for us.”
Castleford are without a home win against Wigan in almost eight years having lost four and, unusually, drawn twice in their six meetings since 2006.
Shenton, who is closing in on 100 tries for the club having scored 98 in 183 games, has, though, ample experience of playing the Cherry and Whites in other circumstances.
He featured for their great derby rivals St Helens for two years before returning to Wheldon Road at the end of 2012.
“The Wigan games with Saints were massive,” recalled the 27-year-old.
“The one I probably remember most was chasing them down for a draw at the Magic Weekend in Cardiff.
“But the Good Friday games, too, were just huge, and cracking atmospheres every time. It’ll be like that again at Cas on Sunday, though. It’s going to be a big game, pretty special and the crowd always get behind us here.”
On a personal level, Shenton is looking sharp and dangerous once more, linking well with his combative winger Justin Carney.
“I’m loving it,” he said. “I’m really challenged and enjoying playing the football we are doing but also watching the rest of the lads enjoying it so much.
“We’re a pretty close unit and it’s a very enjoyable time at Cas at the moment.”
Much of their enterprise is down to the fact new half-back Liam Finn has settled so quickly following Rangi Chase’s departure to Salford Red Devils.
“Finny’s added a lot of brains to the team,” said Shenton, about the ex-Featherstone Rovers schemer.
“He’s a really smart player and we really needed that sort of person to take us around the field,” he said.
Jamie Ellis drops out of their 19-man squad for Massey while Wigan are without captain Sean O’Loughlin but see England winger Josh Charnley, Queenslander Matt Bowen, Dan Sarginson and USA prop Eddy Pettybourne all return with veteran forward Jordan James set to play his first game with them since 2006.