AFTER DISAPPOINTMENT in the south of France last week, captain Michael Shenton is confident Castleford Tigers have the character to get back to form when it really matters.
A 28-6 loss at Catalan Dragons six days ago ended Tigers’ hopes of lifting the First Utility Super League leaders’ shield, pushed them down to fourth place in the final table and handed top spot to St Helens.
Tigers visit Saints tonight for a qualifying play-off which will see the victors go straight through to the qualifying semi-finals in two weeks’ time, while the beaten team will get a second chance at home in an elimination tie next week.
Cas’ failure last week and in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup final almost a month ago has raised questions over their ability to perform when the heat is on.
That could be a concern going into the club’s biggest game in the Super League play-offs since they got to within 80 minutes of Old Trafford 15 years ago.
But Shenton stressed: “I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure on us. I think it is off us a bit now. I think teams are looking at us and thinking we will drop off. We have got to really up our game and find a little bit of the form we’ve had throughout the season.
“We haven’t had a lull this season, or a massive dip in form. We’ve had a few games when we’ve been a bit scratchy for part of the game, but Catalan dominated us for the full game last week so we’ve got to find something to get us out of that.
“I am pretty sure we’ve got the character in this team to do that.”
Victory tonight would be sweet for Shenton, who had two seasons at St Helens and was a try scorer in their 2011 Grand Final defeat by Leeds Rhinos.
The England man struggled to find his form at Saints, but has had a new lease of life since returning to his hometown club and the play-off is an opportunity to show Saints fans what he is capable of.
But he insisted the prize on offer tonight is much more important than making any personal points.
“I am a Castleford player now,” Shenton stressed. “Don’t get me wrong, it would be great to go there and get the win, but it would be big to get the win, no matter where we went.
“We want to win the first game and then get a weekend off. That would be massive for us as a team.”
History is against Tigers, who have not won away to St Helens – in any competition – since 1992.
They have lost twice to Saints this season, but Shenton reckons tonight would be the perfect time to end their long hoodoo.
“This is the best time to break it,” he said. “There couldn’t be a better time and why not?
“I think on paper the teams are pretty even, but the formbook goes out of the window a little bit.
“We have just got to focus on the game and make sure each individual prepares well.
“There’s been a times recently when a few of the guys – me included – haven’t put together an 80-minute performance.
“That’s what it takes in the play-offs. You have got to be ruthless and stick with it for 80 minutes. You have to keep the intensity right up there.
“It sounds easy saying it, but it is very hard to keep a full team focused for the 80 minutes, to keep sticking to the game plan and have the discipline to do that.
“That’s where the teams that have played in the big games year after year after year can switch it on. They have got it in the bank, to dig out when they need it.
“That’s what we’re generating at the minute, that experience. If we can use the experience we’ve gained this year we will give ourselves a really good chance, but if we do the things we did last weekend, we won’t give ourselves a chance.”
That is where Shenton’s background could prove crucial, but he warned: “It is also on each individual player.
“You can’t be relying on the older or the more experienced guys to get you through it.
“Each individual player has to worry about their own game.
“If they all do that and focus on their own game, you give yourselves a really good shot.”
Shenton said Tigers know exactly what went wrong last week – and so are aware of what they need to do to get back on track.
“We just didn’t handle the conditions well,” he said of the reverse in Perpignan.
“We didn’t play well, they got four back-to-back sets on us in the first 10 minutes and that really drained us.
“We hung in there in the first half and we were only 10-0 down at half-time – and we were pretty unfortunate.
“I think 6-0 would have been fair, they scored a try off a dodgy little off-load to make it 10-0.
“We came out and were really positive, but they got a lucky intercept and went the length of the field and scored a try.
“That’s a bad way to concede a try after you’ve done a 100 metre kick-off set. It puts the pressure of you.
“We got in a battle with them, but we gave ourselves too much to do and they won the energy battle.
“We came up with errors chasing the game and the game got away from us.”