Michael Shenton still planning for dream Super League grand finale with Castleford Tigers

AS he approaches the end of his sports business management degree, Castleford Tigers captain Michael Shenton might be thankful knowing his playing days are not yet over.

Saturday, 11th July 2020, 6:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 14th July 2020, 10:31 am
KEEP ON RUNNING: Castleford's Michael Shenton is congratulated on his try against Toronto by Greg Eden. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

One of Super League’s most experienced players, who has acted with such professionalism and dedication to be able to consistently perform at the highest level, it is no surprise he has long since started plans for life after the sport.

Shenton is as diligent off the field as he is on it and he has been trying to make the most of all the time he has found on his hands since rugby league was placed in lockdown in March.

Completing those studies has been one activity during the pandemic for a player who turns 34 in a little over a week’s time.

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Yet, given the havoc Covid has caused to economies and businesses across the world, let alone in rugby league circles, the former England centre accepts it is fortunate he is not retiring this campaign and looking for a job in that chosen field.

“There’s so much uncertainty in the game,” Shenton told The Yorkshire Post, as Super League prepares for its return on August 2 with club chief executives still frantically trying to work out how to make ends meet.

“That’s something we’re dealing with at the moment at the club: what does the game look like moving forward both for Castleford Tigers and each individual – for the players.

“It’s looking like it will be different to what we know for everybody.

“We have a leadership group and the whole group has been kept in the loop on where the club stands.

“The club has been right with us and let us know where they stand and have broken everything down.

“You only have to look at what’s happened at Wigan Athletic to know what can happen.

“We know there’ll be less Sky money next year, then there’s the (Covid) testing costs to come in while most of the teams now pay for their own medical bills.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: Michael Shenton gets away from Hull KR's Greg Minikin. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“But at the same time players have contracts so there’s lots of things going on behind the scenes to make sure everything stays on track.

“The club’s getting it and the players are as well.”

Granted, that is not currently the case everywhere with some clubs still unsure if their players will return to training after furlough with pay cuts causing issues.

Others are desperately trying to work out how to pay for multi-million pound ground redevelopments with games initially behind closed doors.

MAGIC MOMENT: Castleford's players celebrate as captain Michael Shenton lifts the League Leaders Shield in 2017. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Indeed, for once, Castleford – trying to gain a new stadium as long ago as when Shenton debuted in 2004 – might be glad that they are still in their rickety, old but truly atmospheric Wheldon Road ground.

He readily accepts the point, augmenting it by adding: “My dissertation is all on corporate hospitality in the new stadiums and what Cas’ could look like. It was all looking great and all my interviews were based around people like Mike Rush, at St Helens, and people at Leeds Rhinos who have just done that fantastic new hospitality suite.

“But you now look at it and think ‘we’re kind of lucky we haven’t got one of those’.

“That will be costing Leeds an absolute fortune and they can’t get any money in for it.

“On one hand, Cas misses out on that sort of thing normally but, on the other, they haven’t got a mad, huge facility they have to pay for with no money actually coming in.

“It’s something the club does need to improve in going forward – and that’s why I wanted to do it for uni’ – but then this all happened in March and now those guys are all caught up in it, so my plans changed a little.

Castleford’s Michael Shenton in action against Wigan earlier this year at Wheldon Road. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

“I’ve done a best practices piece instead.”

On the field, Castleford started the campaign in promising fashion, winning five of their opening seven games, their last being an impressive victory over champions St Helens.

There is a genuine hope among their fans – perhaps more so now given all the subsequent disruption – that this could be the year they at last secure that maiden league title.

They finished top for the first and only time in their 94-year history in 2017 when Pontefract-born Shenton led a swashbuckling side that thrilled wonderfully only to fall short in a Grand Final against Leeds.

Many stars from that side have since moved on including Man of Steel Luke Gale and, after his infamous drugs shame, England full-back Zak Hardaker.

Indeed, aside from Greg Eden (who was out of favour when the pandemic hit), Shenton is the only back from Castleford’s starting line-up that night at Old Trafford who still remains at the West Yorkshire club.

All the forwards and bench, though, remain intact, strengthened further by the arrival of the impressive Liam Watts, while young Great Britain tourist half-back Jake Trueman is one of the most exciting talents in Super League.

Training resumes on Monday week with Castleford’s first game back on the weekend of August 8/9.

Shenton conceded: “It will be a mad two to three weeks trying to squeeze in as much as we can without breaking the boys down. Then I reckon it’s what the game looks like to start with.

“I can’t imagine it will be red-hot. We’ve set our standard to try and carry on how we left off; it was great to finish like that against St Helens and that’s in the front of our minds.

“That’s how we want to play – get back into the season that way and finish that way – but we’ll have to see. It will be tricky.

“I’ve never had this much time off before and definitely not had this much time away from training.

“It’s which team can pull back together and stay tight as there’s much more than the rugby on the table.

“There’s players’ contracts, what budgets look like for next year and so many distractions going on, so the team that will do well this year is one that has put all that to bed early.

“Players have to unite and get on with it. That’s what we’re trying to do at Cas’ at the moment; making sure all those big distractions are out of the equation.

“Playing behind closed doors will be a mental test as well as no one’s really done that before.

“There’s plenty of challenges which could make it even more special if you can bounce back and get the job done this year.

“It will take some major resilience and mental strength. It will take a quality team to do it.”

With the final year of his contract being 2021, Shenton knows time is running out in his bid to lift that elusive title with his boyhood club.

It would be a fitting way to sign off a splendid career and then comes that likely next stage: sport business management, whatever state it may be in.

Profile: Michael Shenton – facts and figures ...

1986: Born Pontefract, July 22

2004: Makes Castleford debut against St Helens aged 17 but club relegated

2005: Helps return to Super League with National League Grand Final win over Whitehaven

2006: Impresses for Tigers but they suffer demotion again

2007: Stays loyal to Castleford despite interest elsewhere and features as they bounce straight back

2008: Makes 100th club appearance against Warrington and debuts for England in 74-0 win over Wales

2009: Cements himself in Test side and plays in Four Nations final against Australia

2010: Announces will be joining St Helens on three-year deal from 2011, scores first England try against France and then tours Down Under for Four Nations

2011: Plays in Grand Final for St Helens but injured in defeat against Leeds Rhinos

2013: Rejoins Castleford and named captain

2014: Named in Super League Dream Team and leads Castleford out in Challenge Cup final but lose to Leeds. Wins last of 10 England caps

2015: Retains place in Super League Dream Team

2016: Misses most of the season with ACL injury

2017: Leads emphatic Castleford to historic League Leaders’ Shield and a maiden Grand Final but lose against Leeds again.

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MAIN MAN: Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell congratulates his team on victory over Wakefield in February. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com