RELIEF was captain Michael Shenton’s overriding emotion after Castleford Tigers got their Super League campaign off to a winning start.
Promoted Leigh visited the Jungle in round one and Shenton conceded, with Tigers being tipped as top-four contenders, it was a banana skin
“This year, there’s a lot of expectation, not so much from outside, but from within,” said Shenton following Tigers’ 44-16 success.
“It has grown a little bit and with that expectation comes a bit of nervousness. We were playing someone who was a bit unknown to us, we hadn’t played Leigh in a long time and they are a dangerous team. They have signed well and there’s a lot of experience there.
“You think if we can’t handle it, it could be a really big slip-up for us. Thankfully, we came through a really tough start and that showed that our defence was solid.
“We felt comfortable and solid and our reaction to errors was really positive; there was no sulking, we just said let’s get on with it, let’s be positive.
“That set the platform for us. We knew when we got the ball we had to be disciplined with it and I thought when we got the ball we were pretty good. We looked very sharp.”
Castleford ran in seven tries in testing conditions, including snow showers after half-time. “The pitch was soft,” reported Shenton.
“Stu, our groundsman, has done a fantastic job, I have played in a lot worse conditions than that, but I think you can see when it firms up we will be more dangerous with the ball. But the really pleasing thing for us was, for 60-65 minutes, the defensive focus.
“They got a few tries late on, but they have some dangerous players who like to promote the ball and offload and play off the cuff. To be able to handle them the way we did for the majority of the game was very encouraging. Towards the back end, they started to get a bit and that’s the way rugby league goes sometimes, when you’ve got nothing to play for you can risk it a bit more.
“The game had gone for them so that’s always tough and we conceded a few tries off the back of that, but the game was already in the bag then and and, in the end, it was a really satisfying performance and result as well. For most of the game we were really controlled and composed.”
Shenton described the performance of halves Luke Gale, Rangi Chase – who went off with a neck injury in the opening period –- and Ben Roberts as “excellent”, but reserved most praise for hooker Paul McShane.
“He was outstanding, really outstanding,” said Shenton. “He has probably been top dog in the off-season for us, he led the way in the friendlies and in the first game. He played 80 minutes and he has really grown since he has come here, playing under Daryl.”
The fact coach Daryl Powell was able to replace former ‘Man of Steel’ Chase with a player of Roberts’s quality illustrated the strength in Castleford’s squad this season.
“When you’ve got Rangi Chase, Ben Roberts and Luke Gale you are going to have strike all over the field,” said Shenton. “It is not bad that Ben Roberts can come on. I think it was a precaution with Rangi, but there’s no risk when you’ve got someone of Ben Roberts’s calibre on the bench and we have got players like Adam Milner, Olly Holmes and Larne Patrick to come in. It’s exciting times.”
On a personal note, Shenton was glad to get through the first game of the season unscathed and finally put the trauma of last year behind him.
Twelve months ago, he suffered a knee injury in Castleford’s opening Super League match, at Hull KR, which sidelined him for the rest of the campaign.
“It was nice to get through it,” he said. “I think we worked out what they were doing defensively on us and we started getting a little bit of success on our left-edge, which was pleasing to see. Hopefully, we can grow from there and keep consistent and keep playing well.”