Castleford have experienced a highly eventful decade, spending several years in the lower reaches of the table before appointing Daryl Powell as head coach in 2013.
Since then the Tigers have become consistent playoff contenders and in 2017, just 10 years after the club was relegated, they won the League Leaders’ Shield.
Despite losing the Grand Final that year, as well as the 2014 Challenge Cup Final, Powell has done a remarkable job and has helped develop some superb players.
But which of those have stood out the most? Well, in the first of a series of articles, I have attempted to put together a Castleford Team of the Decade.
Here are my choices…
Full-back – Zak Hardaker
Now many Castleford fans may not agree with the inclusion of Zak Hardaker, especially with how his time at the club ended. There are also other candidates for this position, like Luke Dorn, however Hardaker was prominent in helping the Tigers produce their best rugby league of not just this decade, but possibly ever. The year of 2017 saw Cas sweep aside all opponents with Hardaker’s strong running from the back a huge reason why they were so dominant. We know how it ended, but for much of that season Zak was unplayable.
Wingers – Justin Carney & Greg Eden
Next is another player who didn’t exactly leave the Jungle in a blaze of glory. However, during his time as a Tigers’ player, Justin Carney was a huge fan-favourite. He was known for his almost unstoppable running close to the line, causing havoc for most of his rivals that saw him score 63 tries in 62 appearances for the club.
On the other side we have a current Cas player in the prolific Greg Eden. He is another player who excelled in 2017 as he scored a remarkable 41 tries, the highest of any player in a single Super League season.
Centres – Jake Webster & Michael Shenton
They love their powerful outside backs at Castleford and Jake Webster was adored by the Tigers’ faithful. He made up to 125 appearances for the club, scoring up to 50 tries, and was recognised for his sheer power going forward, providing many assists for his winger.
A very obvious choice as the other centre in skipper Michael Shenton. After a short stint with St Helens, ‘Shenny’ came back a much better player and is still a hugely important clog in the Cas line-up. In total, he has made over 300 appearances, scoring over 150 tries, becoming one of their greatest players in the summer era to date.
Stand-off – Rangi Chase
Love him or loath him, 2011 Man of Steel Rangi Chase is selected at stand-off. Despite his troubles, there is no denying his skill and natural ability with the ball – scoring and creating some of the greatest tries in Super League history. He threw many outrageous dummies, put in some exceptional close range kicks and had the ability to control a game. Rangi is still loved by most Cas fans and if things had worked out differently, he could have easily led the club to a title.
Scrum-half – Luke Gale
Another Steve Prescott Man of Steel winner joins Chase in the halves. Luke Gale has recently joined rivals Leeds, but that shouldn’t tarnish his legacy in black and amber as he introduced a new dimension of attacking rugby at the club. Again, it’s hard not to recognise the 2017 season as the highlight, with his speed, kicking game and leadership one of the main reasons Cas were able to top the league by some 10 points. Injuries have seen Gale fail to reach those heights since and are probably the reason why the Tigers have struggled for consistency the last two years.
Props – Liam Watts & Grant Millington
The inclusion of local lad Liam Watts may surprise many, given that he only joined the club in 2018. However, the powerhouse prop enjoyed one of his greatest ever seasons this year, receiving a Man of Steel nomination. The former Hull forward has turned his life around since leaving the Airlie Birds and has really found a home at the Jungle.
Joining him in the front row is long-serving Australian Grant Millington who has been a Tiger since 2012. Another favourite with the fans at Castleford, and it’s with good reason, not only does he give the side much-needed go-forward in attack, but his tireless work in defence makes him one of the those players you can’t go without.
Hooker – Paul McShane
Talking of players who have really found a home for themselves at the Jungle, there is no better example than Paul McShane. The evasive hooker found himself at several different Super League clubs before Powell took a punt on him and 2015, and the risk certainly paid off. McShane has consistently produced for the club since his arrival and did not disappoint last year either, assisting in 19 tries, completing 914 tackles and amassing 853 metres.
Second-row – Oliver Holmes & Mike McMeeken
Oliver Holmes is still only 27 but seems to have been around for ages, which is probably testament to just how reliable he is. One of the most consistent and underrated players in Super League, and although last year may have seen him suffer numerous injuries, once fit again he seamlessly fits back into the Tigers side.
Speaking of underrated, well Mike McMeeken was that up until a year or so ago when people really started to take notice of his quality. With that came international recognition, which was fully deserved given his work rate and expert ball-handling skills. Still with his best rugby ahead of him, McMeeken could become a Cas legend.
Loose-forward – Jesse Sene-Lefao
Another player who Powell was rewarded for taking a chance on is Jesse Sene-Lefao. He has been superb since arriving three years ago, providing more power in the forward pack but also his ability to adapt between various positions has made him a valuable asset to the Castleford club. He makes plenty of metres and has evolved his game in recent times, which sees him involved in many of the Tigers’ tries.
Coach – Daryl Powell
Probably the most obvious choice on the whole list. Daryl Powell assumed control midway through 2013 and, after they finished 12th that season, he began a remarkable rebuilding process. In his first full season in charge the West Yorkshire side jumped up to fourth place, coupled with an appearance at Wembley in the Challenge Cup Final. Adding to this their League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final appearance in 2017, as well as finishing third in 2018, Powell has enjoyed a memorable run with Castleford and will be hoping 2020 is the year he brings major silverware back to the Jungle.