Castleford Tigers skipper Michael Shenton has backed his coach’s belief that the club could be on the verge of achieving something special in 2017.
Shenton is delighted to be back on the field and feeling no problems with the knee that kept him out of action for all bar 27 minutes of last season – and he is determined to be part of a Tigers team being tipped to challenge for honours this year.
He told the Express: “I’m sure with the intensity and the talent within this group that there will be a great chance of us being in the top four come the end of the season.
“We’re trying to build something and we’re getting ready now to really kick on.
“It’s an ambition and a goal of ours to win a trophy this year, but there’s a lot of work to go before it.
“We’ve got to start well and be ready to go. We need to treat every game as a must win game, starting with the first match against Leigh.
“We’ve got some improving to do on last year, especially our defence.
“But training is going really well and everything’s coming together. The boys look fit and sharp, the skills are looking really good and there’s been a real big focus on defence where you can see there’s been some improvement. Everyone knows we can attack, but we really wanted to improve the other side of the game.
“A lot of the hard work is behind us now and the focus is to make sure we are really ready for the start of the season.
“Daryl’s got the squad he wants and I think he’s got some massive headaches on team selection and how we’re going to play.
“We’ve so many good players now we can play in certain ways.
“Who do you put at full-back, who do you pick at half-back and in the centres? Who do you put in your front row and do you go with big back rowers? There’s so many different ways we can play we’ve just got find that winning way and stick with it really.”
Shenton feels fully recovered now from the cruciate ligament injury that destroyed his 2016 season and his own personal aim for the year is to get back to the form that saw him selected for the Dream Team in 2015.
He said: “My knee feels great and I can’t wait for the start of Super League.
“It was a tough one last year missing so much of the season, but it builds a bit of character, you’ve just got to stray strong.
“There was a great support network at the club and at home as well so as much as it was frustrating not to play as soon as the season had gone I put that behind me and moved forward, making sure I was ready to go and have a real good season this year.
“I’ve just got to hope for some good luck this year and make sure I’m playing well and ready to go. I’m hoping to hit that form I was in before I got injured.
“I want to do my job as captain and leader of the team as well. It’s an important one as well as making sure I’m performing well and consistently.
“I enjoy being the captain. It’s a role I think you grow into and I’ve grown into each year with some help from people in and around me. There’s plenty of responsibility with it, but I enjoy it and I think I thrive on it.
“It was frustrating seeing the boys having to do it tough last year with all the injured guys out. You could see that the boys were having to dig deep, but I think that’s put us in a good place for this year. The character that got built last year when the boys were really on their last legs, kind of thing, hopefully will help us to build something really special.”
Shenton is delighted that he has not been forgotten by the England set-up, having been included in the Elite Training Squad for 2017 and seeing three Cas team-mates in there as well shows how far the club has come in recent years.
He added: “I’ve just got to focus on getting back playing well before I can think of playing for England, but hopefully I can make the World Cup squad.
“England’s always nice to think of, but for me the focus is playing well because I’m not going to be considered unless I’m playing consistently well for Cas.
“It’s fantastic that so many of us are in the training squad. In the past we’ve only had me or Joe Westerman and Daz Clark when he came up so to have four considered now is pretty good.
“There’s plenty of potential at the club and it will be good to see if any of the other boys go on to push for an England place.
“I think Mike McMeeken can definitely be an England player. He’s had an outstanding pre-season so far. He was so young when he came to Cas and you can see he’s turned into a man. He’s only 22, he’s big, powerful and intimidating.
“When he plays on the right edge and you are on the left edge he’s hard to handle.”