THE quality of Castleford Tigers’ rugby league for most of this year, with so many stand-out performers, means often some individuals do not perhaps receive the praise they truly deserve.
Captain Michael Shenton is a case in point. He has quietly been producing consistently good displays on their left edge in, let’s not forget, his first season back after 2016 was totally written off following a knee reconstruction.
Yet, with prolific Greg Eden’s try-scoring exploits, silky Benny Roberts terrorising opponents in midfield, Zak Hardaker enjoying such a renaissance, Mike McMeeken on the verge of an England debut, Luke Gale clearly the country’s finest scrum-half – you could go on – he has not often hogged the headlines.
However, against stunned champions Wigan Warriors on Saturday night there was no denying the 30-year-old stood out, especially in a blistering opening spell that laid the platform for the club’s biggest ever Super League victory against these opponents.
Shenton made his first break in the opening set as he helped set up Adam Milner for the first of rampant Castleford’s nine tries inside just 52 seconds.
Soon after, Shenton crossed himself for his fifth of the campaign and every time he took possession Wigan were unnerved.
The thrilling win was a perfect response as Daryl Powell’s side hit back after defeats at St Helens and Hull FC, sending them top of Super League once more.
Asked if it was his own best performance yet, Shenton told The Yorkshire Post: “Probably, yes. It’s always good as a centre to get a fast start and involved in the game. Sometimes the toughest thing when you’re stood out wide and you’ve got so many dominant forwards is actually getting your hands on the ball.
“But we managed that and I think that’s when we play our best – when we pull the trigger straight off. I think we surprised Wigan with our intensity and just our willingness to play that early.
“Sometimes I think when we’re lacking a bit of confidence we might not do that but we were full of confidence tonight; it was all about us and it kind of set the tone for the full game.”
Gale, Hardaker and McMeeken all flew out to Sydney yesterday morning in readiness for England’s Test against Samoa this Saturday.
Shenton, the fourth Tiger named in Wayne Bennett’s elite performance squad in January, did not get the nod, though.
It may have been mainly due to the fact the England coach had promised to take no more than three players from any one Super League club but Powell believes if he maintains this form his captain will be in the World Cup squad at the end of the year.
Shenton, who won the last of his nine caps during the 2014 Four Nations and leads Castleford at Huddersfield on Thursday, admitted: “It is disappointing not to be selected now. If I’d have been playing well enough I’d have got picked. It is tough.
“Mark Percival’s been playing superb and Kallum (Watkins) is getting back to his best isn’t he?
“This is the best he’s played in a while. It is tough as there’s two real quality young centres there who are going to be the future of England so to argue to go against them is hard. Obviously at the end of the year is what I’ll be looking for now but it is important I keep playing consistent and I’ve set the standard tonight.”
This was the second time Powell’s side had beaten the World Club champions in barely three weeks and arguably their biggest statement yet that they are genuine title contenders.
Granted, Wigan lost a raft of players to injury, including England stand-off George Williams who did not return for the second period. But by the time he left, Castleford, who lost their stand-off Roberts to a first half injury, had already inflicted the damage.
After Shenton’s early blast, Wigan’s Frank-Paul Nuuausala was yellow-carded for dissent to allow Gale to stretch the lead to 14-0. Admittedly, Wigan struck when down to 12 men via Sam Powell in the 28th minute but they would not score again. Matt Cook and McMeeken scored for Gale’s sixth goal to make it 26-4 at the break.
Morgan Escare was then sin-binned for a high tackle, winger Greg Minikin crossed in the next set and Gale then got his 10th try of the season before Grant Millington, Jake Webster and Minikin again rounded things off, Paul McShane adding the final goal.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker; Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden; Roberts, Gale; Millington, McShane, Massey, Sene-Lefao, McMeeken, Milner. Substitutes: Chase, Moors, Cook, Monaghan.
Wigan Warriors: Escare; Davies, Gelling, Burgess, Marshall; Williams, Powell; Nuuausala, McIlorum, Flower, J Tomkins, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Tautai, Sutton, Isa, Ganson.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).