Super League 2019 - Castleford Tigers running out of chances to shed their ‘nearly men’ tag

Michael Shenton. (Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Michael Shenton. (Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
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POTENTIAL and promise only goes so far; eventually you must deliver.

It is a sentiment that rings true for Castleford Tigers captain Michael Shenton on the eve of their new Super League season.

Granted, he has played his part in some memorable moments for the West Yorkshire club, not least leading them to the League Leaders’ Shield in 2017 – the first time Castleford has ever finished top in its 93-year history.

They reached a maiden Grand Final that year, too, having played brilliant football along the way that left onlookers waxing lyrical.

Ultimately, though, Daryl Powell’s side froze against Leeds Rhinos on the big night, just as they did in last year’s semi-final at Wigan Warriors when they failed to even score a point.

Having also lost the 2014 Challenge Cup final, it is understandable why people are beginning to wonder if this era of Tigers will be remembered as nearly-men.

Michael Shenton and Luke Gale at full time after Wigan Warriors celebrate going through to the the SuperLeague Grand Final. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Michael Shenton and Luke Gale at full time after Wigan Warriors celebrate going through to the the SuperLeague Grand Final. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

As every year passes, then, is there a nagging doubt this could be a Castleford side that does not truly fulfil its promise?

“Absolutely,” Shenton admitted to The Yorkshire Post.

“We’ve achieved a lot at this club in the last five or six years.

“It’s been turned around and we’ve worked extremely hard.

Of course we’re all desperate for some silverware; there’s unfinished business. We know that and we aim to sort it.

Michael Shenton

“The hard bit is now staying up there, not accepting we’re in around the top four/five as people beneath are chasing you down.

“But we’re chasing the teams above us. That’s our motivation – looking up and giving ourselves the best chance of getting to those games and winning.

“Of course we’re all desperate for some silverware; there’s unfinished business. We know that and we aim to sort it.”

Former England centre Shenton, more than anyone, knows time is running out; he turns 33 in July and there will not be many more chances for him to become the first captain to lead a Castleford side to the championship.

Castleford captain Michael Shenton (Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Castleford captain Michael Shenton (Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Ahead of tomorrow’s opener against visiting Catalans Dragons, he says there has been a different approach in pre-season, something Powell said would happen as long ago as the post-match press conference following that sobering 14-0 loss at Wigan.

“We knew we needed a bigger one (pre-season),” conceded Shenton, who, aside from two seasons with St Helens in 2011 and 2012, has spent his entire career at Wheldon Road.

“Even though we had a decent year last year it felt like we didn’t get going. It didn’t finish great. It wasn’t a nice feeling the way we went out at Wigan.

“We didn’t perform to our potential. Wigan were worthy winners in the end but we didn’t challenge them like we should so it’s definitely motivated us.

“Pre-season has been different. The rule changes mean we need to be fitter and stronger but we all needed to improve; every individual has had to get better and that’s been our focus – our attitude and what we do in big games.

“Hopefully you’ll see a different Cas Tigers in those games now.

“The hard thing now, though, is it’s not an easy ask actually getting into those games.

“Looking at the quality of the competition – some of the recruitment, coaching changes, rule changes, structure changes – no one really knows how it will go down this year.

“But I think it will be pretty exciting. And we’re focusing on us.”

Castleford, of course, must press on without Luke Gale, their England scrum-half and the 2017 Man of Steel, who cruelly saw his entire year ended after an Achilles injury in training recently.

After missing much of last season with a fractured kneecap, it has been a real blow.

“Losing Galey is a kick in the teeth,” conceded Shenton, with Tigers making the late signing of Huddersfield Giants’ Australian utility-back Jordan Rankin to try and offset the loss.

“We didn’t have him for much of last year either. He’s such a big personality and leader and he comes up with so many plays.

“But Jordan Rankin looks really sharp; he’s going to be a real threat carrying the ball. He’ll show good support with the other halves – Ben Roberts, Jamie Ellis and obviously Jake Trueman.

“There’s a lot of pressure on Truey’s young shoulders but he’s more than capable of handling it.

“If we want to, we can go all the way this year. We just have to pull it all together.”

Trueman will be key; the 19-year-old won Super League’s Young Player of the Year having covered for Gale so admirably.

Indeed, it was a sign of his importance that Castleford – even with Gale fit again – missed him so badly when he was injured for the semi-final at Wigan.

With such talent on board, Tigers, whose young full-back Calum Turner has joined Featherstone Rovers on loan, will always remain one of the most potent sides in Super League.

They are only missing second-row Oli Holmes tomorrow with Ben Roberts and Greg Eden fit to take their place in the 19.

Shenton said in the immediate aftermath of the 2017 Grand Final loss that that was perhaps their best chance gone but, hopefully, for Castleford, two years on, that’s proven not the case.