WHEN Michael Shenton made his Castleford Tigers debut in 2004, rarely could he believe he would go on to play more than 300 times for the club, let alone earn a testimonial against a club called Toronto Wolfpack.
It was announced last week that the former England centre’s longevity has been rewarded with the benefit game against Super League’s exciting new proposition on Sunday January 19.
Castleford captain Shenton, 33, debuted against Wigan Warriors 15 years ago and has played for them ever since, aside from a two-season spell at St Helens where he reached the 2011 Grand Final.
Looking back, he told The Yorkshire Post: “You don’t really think about it – getting to this stage. You never think about if you’ll get a testimonial; you just take every season as it comes and then you kind of reach different milestones as you go.
“But it’s been a real honour to play that many games for Cas and so many career matches in total as well. And to play Toronto in a testimonial… back then, you’d never have thought that would be the game you’d ever pick.
“Some people are saying why am I not playing a derby or St Helens – another club I have some sort of affiliation with – but it’s not the way things work any more.
But Toronto as a whole, it’s a very exciting prospect really with the money they’re spending, the coach they have and things like that, they will be a difficult side to play against.Michael Shenton
“You have to play a side that is willing to play you in a friendly and is available to play you that weekend so it’s just the way it’s worked but, as it happens, it is a really exciting prospect.”
Of course, everyone hopes Toronto’s superstar signing Sonny Bill Williams will feature at Wheldon Road and Shenton said: “It’ll be great if Sonny Bill is involved, of course, and we’re hoping he’ll play. He’s obviously a big draw and a lot of people want to see him and – for me – it’d be good to play against him.
“But Toronto as a whole, it’s a very exciting prospect really with the money they’re spending, the coach they have and things like that, they will be a difficult side to play against.”
Shenton, who led Castleford to the League Leaders’ Shield and top spot for the only time in the club’s history in 2017, is looking forward to the contest for more reasons that one.
He has been out of action since suffering a serious ankle injury in the Easter Monday loss at Catalans Dragons.
Shenton, therefore, played only a dozen games last season so he is looking to make up for lost time in 2020.
“The injury has healed pretty well now so I’m back in full training,” said the Pontefract-born player, who emerged through the club’s academy and – after two relegations early on – has helped them become one of Super League’s leading sides.
“The team’s looking well and the new players have fitted in really well. I’m excited to be playing with the boys and getting back out there on the field.”
It remains to be seen whether Shenton will make his comeback in the Boxing Day game with Bradford Bulls.
He said: “I don’t know yet. Daryl (Powell) has not said what the team will be but I think he’s going to play some of the younger guys.
“He might want to put me out there for a little bit of game-time and I think he’s actually discussing the squad tomorrow (Monday) so we’ll know more then.
“But more than likely it will be the friendlies against Widnes and Toronto I play in.”
Shenton led Castleford in their maiden Grand Final in 2017 having also walked them out in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley three years earlier.
Obviously, they lost both games to Leeds Rhinos and one of his remaining ambitions is to bring some major silverware back to Wheldon Road.
They fell short in the play-offs last season having sneaked into fifth. However, with signings such as Cronulla Sharks winger Sosaia Feki and St Helens scrum-half Danny Richardson, there is real hope they can go all the way in 2020.
“You can tell the boys are hungry,” he said, ahead of the Super League kick-off, ironically against Toronto, on February 2.
“We had a real focus at the end of last season. We were still trying to do something special at the end of last season, of course, but it was more about building towards the year. We’ve put together a really good squad that’s definitely capable of doing something special.
“But of course you have to keep boys on the field and everyone has to buy into everything we do which has been really good so far.
“Training’s been a really high standard and positive so far but there’s still plenty of work to do, especially with the amount of people we’ve brought in. We’re excited and, personally, I just want to get back out on the field, back to my best and playing well.”