It was not long ago that Paul McShane’s rugby career seemed destined for the scrapheap.
Having followed up being released by his boyhood club Leeds Rhinos with an underwhelming stint at Wakefield Wildcats, McShane had considered quitting rugby and following his father into the scrap metal business.
Now, six years later, the hooker is currently being discussed as the potential England captain at this summer’s Rugby League World Cup.
Since moving to Castleford Tigers in 2015, the hooker has transformed into one of the best players in the country, culminating in him winning the 2020 Man of Steel.
During his acceptance speech, McShane made it clear that his sights were set on England.
“I want to win something with Cas, I’m really desperate to do that but I also want to play for my country. It is something that I haven’t done just yet and it is something I’m really passionate about and something I really want to do,” he said.
Although he remains uncapped for England, the dynamic 31-one-year-old has been one of the names mentioned by England coach, Shaun Wane, to occupy the vacant captaincy left by Sean O’Loughlin’s retirement ahead of this summer’s World Cup.
Although it would represent the pinnacle of his career, McShane himself is guarded on the subject.
“It’s good to hear but I’ve got to get in the squad first and foremost,” he explained.
McShane’s reluctance to count his chickens is unsurprising. Despite Wane’s praise and a stellar 2020 under his belt, McShane is by no means guaranteed a starting berth at the World Cup in October, such is the strength in depth England possess at hooker.
Seeing off the likes of James Roby, Josh Hodgson and Daryl Clark will require McShane to maintain his high standards, while Wane has suggested that his defensive play is an area for improvement.
“I’m desperate to represent my country and speaking to Shaun gives you some motivation but it’s all down to me really and how I’m performing for Cas so yeah I’m looking forward to it . It’s my performances for Cas that are gonna get me in there,” he told club media.
He added that he didn’t feel any extra weight of expectation after his Man of Steel award last year.
“No I don’t feel any extra pressure. I just want to keep enjoying what I’m doing, I don’t wanna think about owt’ like that,” the Leeds native said.
Betting on success
McShane saying he doesn’t feel any pressure is typical of his calm demeanour on and off the pitch. McShane speaks with measured authority and, when discussing some of his younger teammates at Tigers, sounds more like a coach than a player.
Talking about his understudy in the hooker position at Tigers, 21-year-old Jacques O’Neill, McShane said:
“The thing about Jacques is he plays well above his weight and he doesn’t take a backwards step, there’s a good chance he could get some niggles if he doesn’t put a bit of size on so over pre-season I just challenged him to go from 85 kilos to 91 to get a bit more behind him and today he smashed that as well. It’s good weight as well, he’s gone up six kilos in weight and down three or four percent body fat so I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes this year.”
While McShane was impressed by his protégé’s efforts, it did come at a cost. He explained that the motivation to hit weight targets may have come from a friendly wager between the two, with O’Neill aiming to gain weight and McShane looking to shed it.
“I wanted to try and get down to 87 kilos, but I was a kilo short and I ended up having to pay him a hundred quid!” he said, laughing.
Remembering his roots
As much of a positive influence he is to his players, McShane is also a skilled diplomat for the club. His sponsor at Tigers is Yorkshire construction company Brebur Limited, who gave McShane his first payslip when he was 17 years old and dry lining ceilings.
With the financial impact of the Covid pandemic being felt across all sports, McShane spoke with great warmth about his former employers.
“We’re going through tough times and from our sponsors, the help we’ve had, it’s massive,” he said.
Brebur’s reaction to McShane’s Man of Steel award was akin to a proud teacher seeing a former favourite pupil’s well-deserved success.
Well @mcshane_paul , you've come a long way since your drylining days with us! Congratulations on winning the Steve Prescott Man of Steel Award. We are immensely proud of you and no one deserves it more than you. @CTRLFC #manofsteel #proudsponsor #paulmcshane #COYF https://t.co/KUpkVtt0Xh
— Brebur Ltd (@BreburLtd) November 24, 2020
For McShane, he believes that the long relationship Brebur have had with him and his club exemplifies what makes Tigers a special club to play for.
“I think it just shows what Cas rugby club means to people, the loyalty that people have. I think that’s what makes people better when they join the club as well, they’ve got fans that really love the club and support them through thick and thin,” he explained.
Six years on from his decision to stick with rugby and move to Rhino’s rivals Castleford, McShane’s England future is in his own hands. If he handles it as well as he has handled the ball for Tigers, there is every chance he could be leading England in search of a maiden World Cup title at Old Trafford.