AS much as Paul McShane loves playing scrum-half, the Castleford Tigers player is desperate to see colleague Luke Gale return at Headingley tonight.
McShane, a hooker by trade, won plaudits aplenty for a stunning display when filling in at No 7 during his side’s Challenge Cup win over Salford Red Devils on Saturday.
With captain Gale sidelined by a hamstring strain a couple of days previously, the 26-year-old was moved into the uncustomary half position yet won man-of-the-match in the BBC televised tie.
Castleford visit Leeds Rhinos tonight looking to heap misery on the crisis-torn treble-winners, who were dumped out of the Challenge Cup by Huddersfield Giants last Friday and sit bottom of Super League.
McShane, who hails from Leeds and came through the club’s academy, is waiting to see if Gale, called into the England squad last year, will be fit to resume.
“Hopefully, Galey will be back,” he said, as Castleford look to complete a double over their derby rivals following the 18-14 win at Wheldon Road in March.
“I’ll take a bit of confidence from what happened against Salford if I’m called up to do it again at Headingley.
“But Galey is a massive player for us and it’d be a huge benefit if he is fit.
“He’s a great player and, for me, he’s probably the best half-back in England at the moment.
“As long as I’m in that 17, though, and playing, I’m happy to do whatever job’s needed.”
Castleford coach Daryl Powell fielded a makeshift half-back duo to overcome Salford – prop Grant Millington operated at stand-off – but he could have Gale and fellow playmaker Luke Dorn back, too, this evening to strengthen their chance of success.
McShane, who produced a great kicking game in his 150th career match last weekend, is ready for whatever comes his way following his rare appearance in the scrum-half position.
“As a kid up to 16, I was a half-back but as soon as I went into the (Rhinos) Foundation I was changed to hooker,” he explained, with Castleford currently sat in eighth spot.
“I think I maybe made one start for Leeds at seven in 2010 but I can’t remember any other times.
“I enjoyed it last week, though. It was something different and I think every player in a rugby side wants to be a half and get their hands on the ball.
“We had a pretty simple gameplan to stick by but, more than anything, our defence really won it for us against Salford. It was outstanding.
“It was just a massive game for us. We want to do well in the Cup and to get a result like that, with some key players missing, was great.”
McShane left Leeds for Wakefield Trinity at the end of 2013 having spent much of the previous season on loan with Widnes Vikings.
He made 63 appearances for Rhinos and won the 2012 World Club Challenge with them against Manly without ever fully nailing down the hooking role.
He eventually asked for a transfer but insists he has no axe to grind with Leeds head coach Brian McDermott.
“I loved it there and as a kid you can’t really ask for better than coming through the system at Leeds,” added McShane, who joined Castleford from Wakefield last July.
“You’re very lucky to get to stay at one club throughout your career and it came to the point where I had to move on to go learn my trade further.
“But I really have no regrets and I am back enjoying my rugby again.”
The irony of it all is, McShane is just the sort of organiser his former club could perhaps utilise now as their poor form continues. He maintains, though, Leeds will emerge from their slump.
“They have just been unlucky with injuries,” he said. “I’ve no doubt when they’re back up to a full compliment they’ll still be one of the best in the comp’.
“It’s just how things have gone this season – a lot of teams have struggled with injuries and it’s been a big part of this year.
“I still think they are up there as a threat no matter where they are in the table.”
Veteran Rhinos hooker Rob Burrow says this is the biggest game against Castleford he has ever faced, highlighting how crucial it is for Leeds to gain a vital win after losing seven of their last eight games.
“For Rob to say that it shows how important it is to them to get a win,” added McShane.
“They’re at home and they’ll want to reward their fans after some of the results they’ve had.
“But we’re looking at it in the same way; we’ll take confidence out of that Salford win and want to kick on now ourselves.
“I think it’s also the derby to look out for now that Bradford are out of Super League; the Leeds v Cas one is the one to watch.”
Leeds captain Danny McGuire believes his club’s early exit from the Challenge Cup could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
“Maybe that is a little bit of a blessing,” said McGuire.
“We can get a couple of weekends off here and there and rest players and focus on the league competition.
“We’d still love to be in the Challenge Cup because we know how special it is, but it’s not to be this year so we have to focus on playing well in the league.”
McGuire’s sentiments are echoed by his long-serving team-mate Rob Burrow.
“The Cup is a real distraction,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed being involved with that and we’d love to have been there again this year but we’ve got to forget about that now and we need to put all our eggs in the one basket and climb up the league and get into that top eight.”