Castleford captain Michael Shenton refused to blame the absence of Zak Hardaker for his team’s worst performance of the season as they crashed to a 24-6 defeat to Leeds in their maiden Grand Final.
The Tigers beat the Rhinos four times in Super League this year to finish 10 points clear of them in claiming the League Leaders’ Shield for the first time in their 91-year history but they collapsed in dramatic fashion on the big stage at Old Trafford.
They came unstuck in the wet conditions and coach Daryl Powell was forced to reshuffle his side after the shock withdrawal of Hardaker just 48 hours beforehand - but Shenton insisted there were no excuses.
“That was a quality team we put out there with some outstanding players but we didn’t play to our potential whatsoever,” he said.
“We can’t blame it on that. We haven’t spoken about it for the last few days, we’ve moved on.
“We had a great session on Friday, I thought the preparation was good, We were quite relaxed going into it, I thought we handled the build-up well but we made too many big, big errors in important times in the game. Leeds won all the little battles out there.
“That was not the top-of-the-table team you’ve seen all year.
“It’s massively disappointing but we’re going to stick together and move on. We’re going to have some boys going out to the World Cup, then we’ll have a good off season and get over this.
“It’s tough to take at the moment but there’s been plenty of positives to take of the season and Leeds taught us a few good lessons tonight.”
Castleford were in danger of becoming the first team to be nilled in a Grand Final before Mike McMeeken went over for the last try of the game - but that was little consolation for the league leaders.
“We save our worst for the biggest occasion,” said scrum-half and newly-crowned Man of Steel Luke Gale.
“It’s a real disappointment. I’ve never played in a game where a team has made that many errors. You wouldn’t win an amateur game with that many errors. It’s a hard one to take, on a stage like this and to play nothing like we’ve played all year.
“To be fair to Leeds, they played well and handled the occasion better than us. It’s been a great year and disappointing to go out like this.
“The feeling of watching Leeds lift that trophy will stay with me for a long time. It’s not a nice feeling. I wouldn’t mind being beaten but to lose like that is massively disappointing.”
Gale managed to find some comfort in his close friend Danny McGuire winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match on his farewell appearance for the Rhinos.
“He was outstanding, he saved his best for this stage and, to be honest, I’m made up for him,” Gale said.
“It was an outstanding performance, typical of Maggsy to perform in a big game. Probably the only positive is that my mate got the Harry Sunderland Trophy and he leaves his Leeds career in a great way.”