HE may not have received the tally of international caps or domestic honours a player of his talent deserves, but Castleford Tigers captain Michael Shenton is a born-winner in the eyes of his coach Daryl Powell.
Castleford will tomorrow play host to newly-promoted Toronto Wolfpack, their opening Super League opponents exactly two weeks later, in Shenton’s testimonial game, marking the start of his 15th season at the club and the 17th of his professional career.
He is a great professional, lives and breathes the game and it is really fitting he has got a testimonial.Daryl Powell
Despite long being regarded as one of the European game’s top centres, Shenton has frequently been overlooked at Test level, winning only 10 caps for England from 2008 to 2014.
Ironically, Shenton could also find himself overshadowed to a degree on his own big day, when Toronto are expected to give a first run out to their former All Blacks superstar Sonny Bill Williams.
The presence of such a huge name in the visitors’ squad, however, should guarantee healthy business at the turnstiles and Powell feels that is no more than Shenton, Castleford’s captain since 2012, deserves.
“I think he is the most skilful centre in Super League, if not the game,” said Powell.
“His ability to get the ball to where it needs to be is absolutely world class.”
Assessing the Pontefract-born 33-year-old’s influence on Tigers, Powell, who took charge during the 2013 season, added: “He has been fantastic,
“He had a little period at Saints, but other than that he has been all Castleford; he grew up through the system and he has been incredible as a player, as a leader he has grown and he has been fantastic as a captain.
“He is a great professional, lives and breathes the game and it is really fitting he has got a testimonial.
“Hopefully it will be fantastically well supported.”
Shenton missed almost the entire 2016 season after suffering a serious knee injury during Castleford’s opening game of the campaign.
He had more bad luck last term when ankle damage sustained in April ended his year.
Getting through unscathed will be a priority tomorrow, but Powell has no doubts about Shenton’s fitness.
“He is fine,” reported the coach.
“He has had a really good pre-season, he has hardly missed anything and it’ll be good for him to get out there.
“This game is obviously a really important one for him and I think everyone’s excited for Shenny and for us looking towards the season ahead.”
Tony Smith and Steve McNamara both included Shenton in England Test sides, but the most recent coach Wayne Bennett was less of a fan.
Powell feels Shenton could have played more at the highest level.
“It’s just coaches,” he said.
“Great Britain went last year with no centres, so everyone has their own opinions.
“I think potentially he should have played more, but the international coach obviously sees things differently.
“It is what it is, but I think when he has played he has been pretty good for the international team.”
Tomorrow will be Castleford’s third pre-season game, but the first in which Powell has fielded his strongest-available side.
Liam Watts, Mike McMeeken, Alex Foster and Junior Moors are sidelined due to injury, but off-season recruits Sosaia Feki and George Griffin will don amber and black for the first time.
The trial game was agreed before Super League fixtures were published, but Powell is unconcerned about giving anything away. “I have been in quite a few games where you play a team in a league game the week before and then you play them again in a semi-final,” recalled Powell.
“You think about what you are doing there so obviously there’ll be some thought into how we go about our game, but we will be working on what we’ve practiced.
“I don’t think you can hold too much back. The one thing we will get is a look at some of their players. They are newly-promoted so it gives us a look at them.”
Powell is also excited about Williams’s potential appearance in the opposition ranks.
He added: “It’s great for rugby league that he is over here and playing in Super League and great for Michael Shenton that he’ll be playing in this game.
“I am looking forward to seeing him, like everybody else will be.
“It is our main pre-season hit out and hopefully there’s an awesome crowd and an awesome atmosphere and Sonny Bill Williams gets to see what we are all about.”