Ex-Saint Michael Shenton is revelling in being a big fish in a small pond once more, although he hopes that pond will soon become a lake.
The classy centre jumped at the chance to join St Helens three years ago and achieved one of his ambitions when he appeared in the 2011 Super League Grand Final.
But home is where the heart is for the Castleford-born 27-year-old, who recently became a father, and after making the move back over the Pennines 18 months ago, he has derived immense pleasure in playing a key role in the club’s resurgence in 2014.
‘I’m a Cas lad and I earned my stripes here,” Shenton said. “At St Helens they have so many senior players, you kind of have to take a step back.
“They’ve got so many international quality players there and I learned so much from guys like Paul Wellens but it’s been a good move for me coming back.”
Shenton probably wondered what he had let himself in for when the Tigers struggled in his first season back at the Jungle - under Ian Millward they were bottom of the table at the end of April - but the club never looked back after the appointment of another home-grown product, Daryl Powell, as head coach.
They provided a hint of what was to come by winning three of their last four matches in 2013 and are now comfortably placed in the top four and through to the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup.
“The club has changed so much in the last 12 months,” Shenton said. “We needed a bit of rebuilding after kind of hitting rock bottom.
“It’s a massive part of my life now I’ve got a family and them being happy is important. It’s something Daryl has tried to create at the club. It’s a happy place to be at the minute and it’s showing with the way we’re playing.”
Going strong on both fronts in their hunt for silverware, Castleford’s impressive performances have already brought some reward with call-ups for Shenton and two of his team-mates, prop Craig Huby and hooker Daryl Clark into England coach Steve McNamara’s 34-strong training squad for a get-together in Loughborough this weekend.
Shenton won all his previous nine England caps as a Castleford player and says he never gave up on the prospect of returning to the international fold.
“I always thought I was young enough to get back in,” he said. “Coming back here was a reason for that; to become an important player in a team again. When Ian Millward brought me back, that was one of the goals I set myself.
“If I never got back in then nobody could take away the fact I played for England. The recognition is nice and it’s great for Castleford to have three players in the squad. It’s recognition of where we’re at as a club and how well we’re playing.”
Shenton, whose last England appearance was against the Kiwis in the 2010 Four Nations Series down under, is facing some tough competition ahead of the trip to Australia and New Zealand in October.
In addition to Kallum Watkins (Leeds) and Leroy Cudjoe (Huddersfield), who were England’s first-choice centres at the World Cup, the impressive form of Chris Bridge (Warrington) and Dan Sarginson (Wigan) has caught the eye of McNamara and, of course, Brisbane-based Jack Reed is sure to come into contention for the Four Nations after being injured at the end of last season.
“Going on tour is massive,” Shenton said. “It’s a special occasion that doesn’t happen many times in a player’s career. However there’s quite a way to go in the season yet and form can dip and rise, so I’ve got to keep on top of my game.
“You’re up against a lot of competition in the centres and that’s motivation in itself to play well and improve.
“I’m happy with the recall obviously It doesn’t mean too much at the minute but going forward it means I’m in Steve Mac’s eyes, which is pleasing and a bit more motivation to finish the season as I started it.”