Castleford Tigers hooker was named as Super League’s star player for 2020. “Paul has had an incredible season and has been fantastic for us for a number of years, so this is a massive pat on the back for how he has grown as a player since joining Castleford,” said head coach Daryl Powell.
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 24/11/20 12:22pm
This time last year, when Super League’s title sponsors Betfred revealed their odds for the 2020 Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel award winner, Paul McShane was not even listed among their top 13 contenders.
Indeed, the sole Castleford Tigers player on the list was exciting young half-back Jake Trueman, and the only hooker included was former Tigers No. 9 and 2014 winner Daryl Clark – both of whom were quoted at odds of 25/1.
McShane has overcome the odds to be recognised as Super League’s star player in more ways than just defying the bookies’ predictions though, having battled back from being released by boyhood club Leeds Rhinos at the end of the 2013 season and then contemplating whether he would even continue in full-time rugby league during his time with Wakefield Trinity.
But joining Trinity’s near neighbours Castleford midway through the 2015 season injected fresh life into his career and the belief instilled in him by head coach Daryl Powell has seen McShane become a vital cog in the Tigers machine.
“Coming through as a kid at Leeds, I was playing for the club I supported, and my time was up there. I got released and I had to find my own path and what sort of player I wanted to be,” McShane told Sky Sports rugby league presenter Brian Carney in an emotional post-award interview.
“I went to Wakefield; we were struggling as a team and I didn’t know if I was going to stay in full-time rugby or not.
“Then Castleford gave me an opportunity to join their team and, speaking to Powelly, he gave me confidence in my ability, and I wanted to make sure I gave everything I could for that club for giving me this opportunity.”
Even so, McShane winning the Man of Steel is something of an outlier. He is the first player since 2011 to win the award with his team having failed to qualify for the play-offs – that being another former Cas star, Rangi Chase – and, at 31, the oldest since Huddersfield Giants full-back Brett Hodgson won it at the same age 11 years ago.
But him carrying on the impressive displays he produced pre-lockdown, even amid Castleford’s struggles since the pandemic-affected Super League season resumed in early August, have not gone unnoticed by the Man of Steel panel which is comprised of a number of notable former players.
The regular-season statistics bear out McShane’s impact too. For starters, only Clark – now of Warrington Wolves – made more metres from scoots and they were the only two players to cover over 1,000 metres with those runs from dummy-half.
McShane had a higher average gain per carry (9.5m) than Clark (8.6m) from 20 fewer carries as well, while prior to the play-offs he was second among hookers – behind only Wigan’s Sam Powell (705) – for the number of tackles made and sixth in Super League overall with 604 at a 92 per cent success rate.
He is one of the best nines in the game bar none and his all-round game is fantastic. He’s a champion player and we’re glad to have him.
Daryl Powell on Paul McShane
Of the 50 kicks he made, 17 of those were retained too, while his ability to deputise at scrum-half has proven useful to the Tigers on occasions as well. But there are other assets McShane has which cannot be measured by numbers which Powell also hailed.
“Paul has had an incredible season and has been fantastic for us for a number of years, so this is a massive pat on the back for how he has grown as a player since joining Castleford,” Powell said.
“He has matured off the field since he’s been at the club and his leadership continues to grow all the time.
“As a player, he is one of the best nines in the game bar none and his all-round game is fantastic. He’s a champion player and we’re glad to have him.”
McShane’s form has seen him earn a place in England head coach Shaun Wane’s performance squad as well and if that continues, he would be firmly in contention for a place in the team to contest next year’s Rugby League World Cup.
International honours remain one of his targets, along with lifting a major honour with Castleford after helping them to the League Leaders’ Shield and a maiden Super League Grand Final appearance in 2017.
“I want to win something with Cas – I’m really desperate to do that – and I want to play for my country,” McShane said. “It’s something I haven’t done yet, and I’m really passionate about it and really want to do it.
“It’s down to me. I just need to keep performing and hopefully I can push my way into his plans. We’ve had a couple of conversations and speaking to him [Wane] he buzzes me up about how passionate he is about England.
“I’m looking forward to next year already, I still feel I am going to improve, so I think it’s down to me to get myself in there.”