Written by Callum Walker
30-year-old Paul McShane is one of Castleford Tigers’ most important assets with a first England cap on the horizon, but his career has not always been talked about in a successful fashion.
By July 2015 and aged just 24, he had moved to his fifth club – Castleford Tigers. His career was in danger of petering out, despite the successful transition he had made as a youngster. The wily number nine had initially burst through the Leeds Rhinos academy, winning a Grand Final and the Junior Academy Player of the Year in 2007 as well as earning representative call-ups for the national youth team.
That led to McShane flirting with a place in the first-team by 2009, but being behind Matt Diskin and Danny Buderus in the reckoning, he found game time at a premium. After 64 appearances and with little prospect of making it at the Rhinos, the hooker had to go elsewhere, first on-loan to Hull FC and Widnes, before being released from his Leeds contract in 2013.
A permanent move finally came about as the hooker joined Wakefield. A steady number nine, it was the transfer to Castleford a year-and-a-half later that ensured McShane rose to prominence. A bizarre swap deal with Castleford’s Scott Moore will still be remembered as one of the most advantageous transfers the Tigers have made in the Super League era.
For the first time in his career, he became an 80-minute hooker, forcing the then Castleford number nine, Adam Milner, to take up the loose forward role. A new deal in 2016 and ever-improving performances led him to have the best season of his entire career in Castleford’s superb 2017.
The Tigers topped the table for the first time in their history, with McShane delivering consistency and maturity that had him on the cusp of England selection for the 2017 World Cup.
A new five-year deal beckoned for the hooker in 2018. And, with the player of the year, players’, fans’ and directors’ player of the year coming his way at the end of that season, he had seemingly hit the peak of his career.
Paul McShane said Castleford's win over St Helens was the Tigers' best performance of the season.
— Sky Sports Rugby League (@SkySportsRL) March 15, 2020
Naturally, a trough came next as 2019 was a year to forget for both himself and Castleford, but a sterling start to 2020 has seen calls that the hooker is back to his best. One of the most influential players in Daryl Powell’s side, the 5 ft 6 maestro was finally given an England call-up in March this year following performances that see the hooker currently sitting six points clear in the Steve Prescott Man of Steel awards table.
With the ability to mix it with the big boys despite his small stature and a brilliantly quick and effective running and passing game from dummy-half, McShane is one of Super League’s best number nines.
Now a heavily experienced member of the Castleford squad with 133 appearances under his belt, his importance in the Tigers side cannot be underestimated. It’s no coincidence that when the number nine plays well, so do Castleford. A performing McShane makes Castleford tick, and, if his form continues, then McShane will surely be given a shot by new England coach Shaun Wane.