Written by Callum Walker
The Steve Prescott Man of Steel was announced last Monday via video link and, for some, the winner raised some eyebrows.
Out of Bevan French, Aidan Sezer, Liam Farrell, Lachlan Coote and Paul McShane, it was the latter that brought home the trophy.
Despite Castleford finishing ninth after a disappointing end to the season, hooker McShane was still the Tigers’ best player throughout the season – and he has been since 2017. In fact, it is an incredible rise for a player that wasn’t even included in Super League sponsors, Betfred’s, top 13 contenders for the accolade prior to the season’s start.
For McShane, it’s been a tough journey; having been released by boyhood club Leeds in 2013, the number nine almost quit full-time rugby during a spell with Wakefield Trinity. But, Castleford head coach Daryl Powell clearly saw something and swooped for the hooker during the 2015 season, swapping him for Tigers’ Scott Moore.
It was a match made in heaven with McShane instantly becoming a hit at the Jungle and this recent prize is testament to the commitment the hooker has made in turning his career around.
And, for those critics that say “what has McShane done?” then pay attention to his statistics. The hooker made 604 tackles throughout the season and 108 from marker – only Farrell from the shortlist made more. McShane also had eight assists to his name – French with seven.
Even more impressive though, the number nine made an average gain of 9.53 metres with every carry – no one in the shortlist came close. Whilst French made the most errors in the competition, McShane didn’t even make the top 20 and only Coote on the shortlist made more 40/20s. So, even on the basis of statistics, Castleford’s main man deserved his place on the shortlist.
The end vote relied on rugby league legend Ellery Hanley’s decision with the inconsistency of the Super League season causing havoc with the original judging system. Of course, players that have played more games will have accrued more points whilst those playing less games may have more points per game.
To have such an expert decide the outcome was an honour and the emotion on McShane’s face and his voice showed just humbled he was to receive the award. It was also a big two-finger salute to those that say those outside the top four cannot win such individual accolades.
For Castleford, it was their fifth Man of Steel success since the modern game came into being with only Wigan and St Helens ahead in the list. That is an astonishing achievement for a club that has made just two major finals alongside enduring two relegations in that period.