This piece with Cas’s talented trio of Michael Shenton, Joe Westerman and Richard Owen appeared in Rugby League World in early 2009.
THEY may have come last in 2008 but you won’t find too many pessimistic Castleford supporters as we head into a new Super League year.
They showed enough last season to suggest that they are more than capable of a mid-table finish in 2009. Their wins over Saints, Warrington and, in particular, Leeds were outstanding and totally out of character for a side on their way to collecting the wooden spoon.
Not only have they made some excellent signings for 2009 but, in Terry Matterson, they have a man who looks destined to go all the way in the coaching game. Even more important, however, to the Tigers’ fans is the emergence of a number of outstanding young home-grown players over the last couple of years.
The Wheldon Road faithful may even consider their 2006 relegation to have been worthwhile as it resulted in Matterson unleashing Joe Westerman and Richard Owen on the following year’s National League One competition. At the time, Matterson was quick to point out in the media that a season in the lower leagues meant that he could give ample game time to some of Cas’s rising stars.
Both players performed brilliantly in 2007 and followed up their inaugural campaigns by cementing their reputations in last season’s Super League. In fact, there were many who rated Owen as the Tigers’ best player in 2008, after performing so well in Castleford’s three-quarters.
They also figured in last month’s ’50 Best Teenagers in the World’ feature in this magazine, with Westerman coming third behind the Israel Folau and Mitchell Pearce, who both played representative football in Australia in 2008. Not bad for a bloke who had just finished his first top-flight campaign.
“I’m delighted to be up there,” said Westerman of his selection. “My grandad bought the magazine in 2007 when I came 14th and he was really proud. Sadly he died last year.
“My dad went out and bought Rugby League World in December and saw that I’d come third. It’s such an honour. But, even so, I think Richie should have come higher.”
Another young player pulling up trees at the Jungle is the 22-year-old centre, Michael Shenton, who debuted for the club in 2004.
In the opinion of many pundits, Shenton should have been on the World Cup plane to Australia after an outstanding season, culminating in an excellent game for England against Wales at Doncaster.
An injury-free season could well see Shenton step into the England side for the Four-Nations competition later this year against world champions New Zealand, Australia and France, where he will be hoping to nail down a spot in the troublesome centre position.
How will you look back on 2008?
MS: I’ll look at the whole picture and I was disappointed with where we finished in the table. We threw some games away and it’s something that we have to put right. But there are some things that we can be positive about – the club has really moved forward in the last 12 months and we’ve made some great acquisitions for next season. As for my form, I wanted to perform solidly and with consistency and I think I was doing that by the end.
JW: It went well for me and I did better than I expected. I was called up for the Test match squad in France although I was disappointed not to play in the end. It was still a great experience, though. As for the team, we pulled off some great wins which shows what we can do.
RO: It’s been a good experience, playing in Super League for the first time. We know what we can do now after some of the wins we got but we need to be more consistent. From a personal point of view, I was pretty happy with the season. Playing in Super League with Goldy [Ryan McGoldrick], Brent [Sherwin], and Luke Dorn has been great.
Were you disappointed to miss out on the World Cup?
JW: Very disappointed. I missed the last couple of games of Super League with my foot injury and then I trained to an extent with the England train-on squad, but not fully. It still killed me when I found out I wasn’t going to Australia, though.
MS: Definitely, especially after training so hard in the England train-on squad before the World Cup. But halfway through the season, I didn’t expect anything at all. It’s definitely a future goal and it will be a great achievement.
RO: Not really because it didn’t really enter my head. I just concentrated on Cas.
How will Castleford go in 2009?
RO: I think we’ll go really well. there are some very good players here and Rangi [Chase] was awesome on Boxing Day [playing stand-off against Gateshead]. We’re pretty confident.
MS: We’ve made some big steps, things are going well in pre-season and we’ve made a lot of signings. We can shock a lot of people and be a force to be reckoned with. It might take us a bit of time to gel but Terry is doing a good job so that might not be a factor at all.
JW: I think we’ll go well; certainly better than last season. We’re aiming for a spot in the top eight and with the signings we’ve made like Rangi [Chase], Dean [Widders] and Sione [Faumuina], we’ll have a big chance. I think our signings are top class.
What has Terry Matterson done for your careers?
MS: He’s come in and turned me from a player with a bit of potential into an out-and-out centre with the confidence to perform. He can be a mate but he’s still the boss and he gets his message across. He’s very approachable and all of the players have a good relationship with him.
RO: He’s done heaps for me. When I first signed, he gave me the opportunity to play in the first team. When we got promoted, he stuck by me and Joe. He has confidence in us both which is a great thing to have from your coach. He’s approachable too, and so is Andy Hay.
JW: He’s been a massive help and he’s given me the opportunity to play every week which is what all players want. He gave me my chance in National League One and it’s come good. He played loose forward too but we all benefit from him and he’s great for us all.
Tell us about your junior careers.
JW: There’s a photo of me at home aged nine months with a rugby ball in my hands, so I think other people had ideas before I did! I played for Cas Panthers at six and then for Lock Lane between 12 and 16 and then Featherstone Lions. I signed for Cas at 16.
RO: I started playing at the age of five at Oulton Raiders, where I played until I was 12 or 13 when I went to Westgate Redoubt and then Featherstone Lions. My parents have stood in many a cold afternoon watching me play rugby! I had a Scholarship with Cas from 13 and made my first-team debut at 16.
MS: I played for Smawthorne Panthers until I was 15, then I had a year at Upton.
At what age did you start to realise a career in the professional game was within your grasp?
MS: When you’re from Cas it’s always an ambition but I didn’t think about it seriously until I was playing for the Academy.
RO: When I got my scholarship with Cas. Meeting all the players and seeing them in their nice cars makes you want to succeed!
JW: I don’t know. I was always not a bad player at seven, eight, nine and so on. I was always picked as player of the tournament back then. But I think I started to think seriously about a career in the game when I was 15 and got picked to play for England against Wales
Has the transition from obscurity to the public eye been difficult at such a young age?
RO: It was a shock at first when you walk out of the chippy and someone wants their picture taken with you! I don’t mind it at all and living in the middle of Cas, fans often come up to me during the day. I don’t get any grief off them though, that’s my mum and dad’s job!
MS: I remember being asked for an autograph for the first time, which was a very strange feeling. A couple of the boys get fan mail but I don’t! The fans are great with us but the biggest thing about coming into the first team is playing with the stars who you’ve watched from the sidelines. Suddenly you’re out there with them and it takes a bit of adjusting.
JW: When I was younger I always wanted to have my photo taken with the Cas players so I expected it to happen and I just get on with it now. It was still a bit strange at first though. Before I got into the first team, Terry sent me to a promotion and I felt a right idiot because people were asking each other, “Who on earth’s Joe Westerman?”
Who will be next off the Cas production line to make it into Super League?
RO: There’s a second rower called John Davies who’s an excellent prospect, a prop called Johnny Walker and a three-quarter called Joe Arundel. They all played well on Boxing Day and now it’s down to them. There’s plenty of proof that they’ll get a chance here if they’re good enough.
MS: Some of the younger guys have been promoted to the Super League squad this year. Watch out for Jamie Cording who’s a utility player with great skills.
JW: There’s Jordan Thompson too; a fullback.
Do you look at other clubs’ unwillingness to give youth a chance and think “I’m glad I’m at Cas”?
JW: I do in a sense because I know of quality players at Wigan and St Helens, to name two clubs, who are class but who are still not playing Super League. At Saints there’s Gary Wheeler and Jamie Foster; they’re great players. But, to be fair, it’s harder to get into Super League at some clubs I suppose.
MS: I’m definitely pleased to be here because they’ve shown they’ve got faith in us but there are plenty of Castleford boys at other clubs and we need to make sure they stay in the town in future.
RO: No, not really because I think if you’re good enough, all of the Super League clubs will give you a chance; especially now with the licence system.
Where do you prefer to play?
RO: Fullback. I played there in the Academy and I had a run out there on Boxing Day too. I came into the first team on the wing because maybe it was too big an ask to be put straight into the senior side at fullback. Terry has told me that the opportunity’s there for me to play fullback.
MS: Centre. I played wing in my debut season in the National League but I’m a centre. Having said that, I’ll play wherever I’m needed.
JW: Loose forward. I used to play on the left-hand side of the field but Terry moved me to the right and I prefer it there now. I always had a left-foot step but I’ve adapted to the right now and I want to stay there.
All being well, do you see yourself at Cas for the rest of your career?
MS: In an ideal world, I definitely see myself here. But who knows what might happen in the future. Maybe Cas won’t want me!
JW: I’d like to stay at Cas for as long as I can but you never know what’s round the corner. But when my contract is up, and if things are going well, I’d love to stay.
RO: Yeah hopefully and hopefully I’ll play as many games as possible.
What’s your contract situation?
MS: I just signed a new deal at the end of the season which keeps me here until the end of 2010.
JW: End of 2012.
RO: I’m signed until the end of 2010.
What do you do away from the field?
RO: I do a lot of hunting – rabbits and all sorts. My dad brought me up with it and I love it.
MS: I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend and I’m a Playstation and Xbox guy. I like socialising and going for a feed too.
JW: Me and my girlfriend have a little daughter, Brooke, so my days are taken up with entertaining her!
Were you a big Cas fan as a boy?
MS: Yeah I used to go down and watch them but I was more into playing than watching rugby to be honest.
RO: No, I was always a Bradford fan. I used to idolise Michael Withers!
JW: I was a big Cas fan. I used to go to every game and I was well into them as a supporter. My favourite players were Adrian Vowles and Danny Orr. I remember us losing to London Broncos at Headingley in 1999 in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup. I cried! Steele Retchless scored in injury time and that was it. We had a good play-off run as well that year, winning at the Wigan in the first-ever game at the JJB and winning at Headingley. They were great days.