Michael Shenton’s influence on latest Castleford Tigers recruit

CASTLEFORD TIGERS’ latest signing has hailed the impact of a former club captain on his career.

Ilikaya Mafi, a 19-year-old loose forward, has signed for the Tigers from Hull FC and has been training with the first team since the beginning of pre-season.

Like Jacob Hookem and Bailey Dawson, two other East Yorkshire products from FC and KR respectively, Mafi has signed a one-year deal at the Jungle with the option for the club to extend a further season.

Mafi has not travelled the conventional route in Rugby League, initially playing rugby union as grew up in the south before discovering the 13-a-side code.

The teenager said: “I was playing rugby union from the age of 11 and then when I moved to Hull, I joined West Hull Rugby League and since then I’ve been hooked. I then came through from Scholarship to Academy at FC.

“I was playing union in Oxford for a local team and then I played league on and off in Essex after moving there, but when I moved to Hull that was when I committed to playing League.”

Mafi has familiar faces at Castleford as he worked with both the Tigers’ head of youth development, Rob Nickolay, and head of rugby and development, Danny Wilson, previously at Hull.

But another key influence has been Michael Shenton, the former England international who spent almost all of his 18-year professional career at Castleford.

Since hanging up the playing boots at the end of 2021, Shenton has been working at Hull as their head of emerging talent, including coaching the Academy side that Mafi was a regular feature of last term.

“It was good at Hull working with Rob Nickolay and Danny Wilson who came to Cas as well,” said Mafi.

“Michael Shenton helped me a lot as well with developing my game in both offence and defence. 

“I’m excited to be getting around a professional environment and learning from all of the players here.

Castleford head coach Lee Radford believes being part of his first-team group will be hugely beneficial for Mafi, whose addition is the latest in his attempts to freshen up the Tigers squad with younger faces.

“He’s a big athletic lad and he’ll benefit from being with us full-time,” said Radford. 

“I made some comments earlier in the year that we need to make the squad’s average age a little bit younger, so Ilikaya and the other lads coming on board will allow us to do that.”