MICHAEL SHENTON will be the first Castleford Tigers player since 1986 to get his hands on the Tetley’s Challenge Cup, if Leeds Rhinos are beaten at Wembley in two days’ time.
It is the sort of opportunity most players can only dream of, but Shenton – Tigers’ captain – insists what happens after the game is the last thing on his mind right now.
“I am just thinking about what I’m going to do when we’re there,” said the 28-year-old centre. “It’s about soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the build up and making sure I am ready to play and I am on top of my game.
“I want to make sure I do my job for the team, that’s the first thing. I suppose all the after-stuff comes then. There’s no point worrying about that, we have got a job to do on the field first. We’ve just got to enjoy the game, get into the game and make sure we perform well.”
Shenton came through Tigers’ academy ranks and earned full representative honours as a Castleford player, before a two-year stint with St Helens.
Returning ‘home’ ahead of last season, he was made captain and has this year produced some of his best rugby, earning a call-up into England’s training squad for the Four Nations tournament in Australia and New Zealand at the end of the domestic campaign.
“I am massively proud,” he said. “To be able to lead the team out at Wembley will be huge and it means more to me because they are such a great bunch of blokes.
“The way the club has turned around as well, it means a lot. With the amount of tickets they have sold there is going to be massive Castleford support.
“I am sure Leeds will match that as well, so it is shaping up to be a brilliant game.”
Tigers’ transformation under coach Daryl Powell has been remarkable and Shenton feels playing alongside the men who endured the tough times last season – and during earlier campaigns – will make the the occasion even more emotional.
“This is a special group,” he said. “The camaraderie is brilliant. Everyone’s got their own personality, but they are all a good set of blokes and everyone’s comfortable in there.
“It has built up over the year, but at the moment confidence is high in the camp and we are enjoying training and enjoying playing.
“It has all led up to this. The pressure’s on now, but we’re going to do the same stuff that’s worked for us so far, in training and games.
“We have proved ourselves in the bigger games, against the top-four teams. We have improved in those games and we are handling the pressure moments better.
“That’s nothing like the pressure is going to be this weekend, but we have got some key members in the team who thrive in big games.
“They have grown into those roles, the halves are playing well and the forwards have been really good, so we have got a real mix in our team.
“I think we can handle an occasion like this and it is my job and the members of the leadership group to guide the rest of the boys as best we can.
“I am confident we have got a great buch of blokes, who will handle the occasion just right.
“We have enjoyed our rugby all year and we’ve worked on and improved what we need to improve.
“There’s no doubt we’ll have to produce our best performance of the year on Saturday to get a result.
“But I am confident we can perform on the day.”