Castleford Tigers v Salford Red Devils - Paul McShane can dream of Challenge Cup glory

IT seems odd that a player of Paul McShane’s quality has never even passed the Challenge Cup quarter-final stage.

Key man: Castleford's Paul McShane. Picture: SWPix

It is something the reigning Steve Prescott Man of Steel will look to correct when his Castleford Tigers side face Salford Red Devils at his old stomping ground of Emerald Headingley this afternoon.

Hooker McShane was with Leeds Rhinos in the days where they ruled Super League but – as much as they tried – simply could not conquer the Challenge Cup.

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On the occasions they did reach the final (every year from 2010 to 2012) the rookie No 9 was down the pecking order for the hooking berth behind the likes of Matt Diskin, Danny Buderus and Rob Burrow and spending time on loan at Hull FC and Widnes.

The year Kevin Sinfield and his ‘Golden Generation’ did at last succeed, ironically beating Castleford in 2014, was the year McShane had left his home-town club for Wakefield Trinity.

However, now established as one of the most influential players in Super League and odds-on to make a long-awaited England debut next month, the 31-year-old is certainly central to Castleford’s cause.

If McShane plays well, the general feeling is the West Yorkshire club will prevail today; and McShane is generally playing well, only building on his Man of Steel form not being burdened by it which has happened to some previous winners. Discussing the famous old competition this week, he admitted: “It was the main thing as a kid; the Challenge Cup was massive.

“I didn’t get a chance to actually go to Wembley. It was always out of my range. Travel was a big part of that.

Oliver Holmes of Castleford. (Picture: Isabel Pearce/SWPix.com)

“As a kid, I only ended up going to watch Hunslet Hawks as they were just down the road from me. It was just a case of watching the final on the telly. I remember watching Leeds v London in ’99. That sticks out for me.

“That’s when I started following rugby properly. But I’ve never played in a Challenge Cup semi-final. I think I’ve been to a quarter-final and fallen short.

“Personally, it’d be massive for me (reaching the last four).”

However, of course, no-one at Castleford would be happy with just that. In coach Daryl Powell’s last season before moving to Warrington Wolves, they want to go out on a high with a major piece of silverware and finish off what they came so close to achieving when making the 2017 Grand Final and losing to Leeds.

One reason why they are firm favourites today is that they defeated Salford 28-18 in Super League only last Friday when McShane – who has played more than 150 games for the club since joining from Trinity in 2015 – dictated once more.

Nevertheless, he insisted: “It will be really tough. It didn’t help playing each other last week; I don’t think either side played their full hand in that fixture.

“For us, it’s a challenge – as a team – to be ready for 80 minutes and play for 80 minutes. It’s do or die. We get one crack at it. We have to leave it all out there.”

Some people think Castleford’s name could be on the Cup this year after their remarkable comeback in the last round at Hull KR, when they finally won 33-32 in the fourth period of ‘Golden Point’ extra-time.

They were 22-6 behind at one point and missed eight drop-goals before getting it right.

McShane mused: “We had a chance to slot a drop goal in training today and we got it wrong again!

“It was a relieving win. It made us realise things we need to improve on if we are going to be in big games. Hopefully we don’t get to that stage again.”

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