Skipper Michael Shenton reckons having a settled squad to go into the 2019 season with can be a big benefit for Castleford Tigers.
With only Jordan Rankin added to the squad and Chris Clarkson on trial the Tigers have nailed their colours to the mast that they believe their previously built team is strong enough to once again challenge at the top end of the league without too many additions from last year.
The loss of Luke Gale to a serious injury is obviously a setback to those plans, but long serving centre Shenton is confident things are still in place to be a top four side for the third season in a row. He told the Express: “It’s going to be challenging this year. A lot of teams have made changes and have recruited really well, bringing in some good players. But our nucleus has been together a while and I think that’s a strength in itself. We know each other’s strengths and we can help each other out. We’re not scared to tell each other things when they need to be said. “We all felt that pain at the end of last season and we’re all looking for a big year. The boys are looking fit and strong so there’s no excuses for us this season.”
For Shenton a successful 2019 would mean winning one of the major trophies.
He said: “We haven’t had a Challenge Cup run since we went to the final in 2014 and that’s kind of one of the big games we are talking about and want to steel ourselves for.
“We definitely need a better performance in that competition and we are looking to get to Wembley definitely.
“League-wise with the new structure changes it’s all about being in the play-offs at the end of the year so we have got to be in that top five. That’s got to be the initial goal and then see where you can get to once you are in there.
“Of course you want to be top of the pile, but as a realistic goal for us we should be challenging for the play-offs at the least with the squad we’ve got.”
Castleford have been installed as fourth favourites to win the title, which shows again how far they have come in Shenton’s second spell with the club. He added: “We’ve built for this to be seen as challengers.
“The hardest bit now is making sure you don’t get comfortable in there because as soon as you do you can get taken down – as we saw with that Super 8s where we saw Leeds winning the Grand Final then not finishing in the top eight the following year. Teams raise their game and they know what you are about – and that’s the danger for us. People don’t take us lightly now and they know we’re going to challenge them so that means we have to raise our game, raise how we train and improve all the areas we need to as well as for each individual player to improve their own game.”