Re-styled Tigers are brimming with confidence and can’t wait to get their teeth into the coming campaign. Peter Smith reports.
New-look Castleford Tigers will go into the season full of confidence, says skipper Michael Shenton.
Shenton reckons Tigers – who complete their pre-season fixtures away to Dewsbury Rams tomorrow night – are capable of forcing their way into First Utility Super League’s top-eight.
Many pundits have tipped Cas to struggle following the sale of star man Rangi Chase to Salford Red Devils, but Shenton – who has scored in a Grand Final for St Helens – insisted: “If the boys do keep working hard, the top eight is an achievable goal for us.”
He added: “We have definitely got quality. There’s not many people like Rangi Chase in the world, maybe three or four, but every other team seems to manage to score points without him, so why can’t we?
“We’ve got options elsewhere and for us Rangi is the distant past now. We’ve moved on and we’ve worked all pre-season without him. We’ve got some quality halves and a lot of competition, which we haven’t had for a long time.
“We don’t know who our starting half-backs are yet – for good reasons – so that’s a really good sign for us. They could all do a job and they are all quality players. It is hard to replace somebody like Rangi, but having players of that quality makes it a bit easier for us.”
Shenton claimed Tigers’ preparations coluld not have gone much better. He said: “We have come a long way from the start of pre-season to where we’re at now.
“We have had a lot of new players to integrate into the team and I think that’s gone really well, but you never know until you play your first Super League game how far you have come and what kind of bonds you have got with each other.
“We are really excited for the first game, to see how we go against Bradford. We are pumped for that, excited for the new year and really confident going into the season.
“The boys are a good bunch of lads, we have got a real variety of personalities in there and I think that helps us a lot. We are strong on the senior side this year, there’s a lot of leaders and a lot of guys the young fellas can look up to.
“I think when the going gets tough we can expect the older guys to step forward and take this team where it needs to go.”
There was similar optimism a year ago, but Tigers’ season never really got up and running, coach Ian Millward was dismissed early on and they finished third from bottom in the table.
“I think we are further ahead than we were this time last year,” Shenton said. “I think last year was just a stepping stone to where the club wants to go and what we’ve got now.
“Daryl [Powell] has been great for us and the rest of the coaching staff and we’ve come a long way under him.
“The culture is slowly changing and that’s a really good sign. Everyone’s hungry and eager to play and wants to be in the team.
“That is good and it comes with the strength in depth we’re building. If we keep working hard I am sure we’ll surprise a few people this year.”
Being more professional is at the heart of that culture change according to Shenton, who made his Tigers debut a decade ago and returned to the club last term after two seasons at St Helens.
“We are professional people, but being professional is about being willing to take that extra step,” he said.
“I think that’s where we’ve really improved this year, people with their extras and things like that. We’ve really been working on little details and that’s something you can’t just do in a couple of weeks and get better.
“It’s something you’ve got to drill into people, then it becomes natural. That’s the culture the champion teams of the last few years have got and it’s what we are trying to build.
“It’s the only way we are going to get up there. In the past we’ve had players who were happy just to play at Super League level.
“Now I am hoping we won’t be happy unless we are challenging for the top-eight.”
Tigers kick off away to Bradford Bulls a week on Sunday, two weeks after a crushing 66-10 pre-season win there.
“There’s no danger of complacency,” Shenton insisted. “Especially with Daryl being so grounded. I feel I am as well and we won’t be talking about that. We can’t read anything into it – we weren’t looking at Bradford in that game, it was more working on things we wanted to do.
“I’m not sure what kind of game plan Bradford put together, they might have held back knowing we’ve got them in a couple of weeks.
“Maybe they just had an off day, but we were pretty happy with how we went. We were pretty hot with the ball, but there’s still things to work on, especially defensively.
“We are really excited, no matter who we are playing in the first game. We just want to bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the table and hopefully put on a decent show.”
A good start is important for Tigers, according to Shenton. “Last year’s fixtures didn’t really help us, Warrington and then Leeds,” he said. “It was tough, but this year we are aiming for a fast start and we need that to get confidence, especially with it being a new team.
“It’s important we put some good performances on the field early on in the season.”