The Under 18s put on a dominant display against Thatto in the Semi Final of the NWC Youth Cup. The Under 18s clash showcased the Bears' skill and determination as they outclassed their opponents to secure a convincing 38-10 victory.
Right from the kick-off, it was evident that both teams were evenly matched. Thatto, bottom of Division 1, faced Ashton, who sat at the top Division 2. With a spot in the Cup Final on the line, the stage was set for fantastic game of rugby league.
Ashton drew first blood just four minutes into the game when Matty Ward orchestrated a break down the left flank, followed by a clever dummy from George Green, leaving the Thatto defence bewildered as he scored the opening try. Ward converted, putting Ashton in an early 6-0 lead.
The Bears continued their attacking onslaught, and in the 15th minute, Ethan Bibby capitalised on a break from Ward to extend Ashton's lead to 10 points. To compound Thatto's woes, a player was sin-binned for unsportsmanlike conduct after the try. Throughout the first half, Bibby, Rustage, and Mather showcased their dominance in the forward battle, causing headaches for the Crusaders.
Thatto, determined to fight back, started working their way into the game, aided by a series of penalties that afforded them sustained pressure in Ashton's half. However, the Bears' defence stood strong, denying the Crusaders any opportunity to breach their line.
As the clock ticked on, Thatto capitalised on the Bears' ill discipline, securing a cheap try to narrow the gap to 10-4. The game turned into a war of attrition, with both teams exchanging blows but failing to add to their respective tallies. Ashton's Tom Shaw made a burst for the Thatto line and appeared to have scored, only to be held up, and the try was disallowed.
However, momentum swung in the Bears' favour just before half-time. Daniel Hill forced a turnover with a superb tackle, and from the resulting possession, Ethan Bibby powered through the Crusaders' defence, dragging a defender over the line with him to score in the corner. Ashton entered the break with a comfortable 14-4 lead.
The second half began with a determined Thatto side attempting to regain their footing in the game. However, an exceptional tackle from Alex Roughsedge halted their progress and forced a turnover for the Bears. Ashton seized the opportunity and showcased their attacking prowess, with Green's sublime dummy leading to a breakaway and Hill showing his pace and scoring under the posts. Ward converted, extending the Bears' lead to 18-4.
As the game progressed, Ashton's dominance became more apparent. Strong carries from Shaw and Rogers set the stage for another try, with Roughsedge capitalising on a wicked cut-out pass from Green to beat three defenders and score. The Bears now enjoyed a commanding 24-4 advantage.
Thatto fought valiantly to break through the Bears' resolute defence but were met with determined resistance. Ashton's skilful attack came to the fore once again, with Hill benefiting from a precision pass by Ashley to score under the sticks. Ward's successful conversion further cemented the Bears' control of the match, now leading 30-4.
With the game well and truly in their grasp, Ashton continued to dominate. Connor Ashley made a break of 50m only to be held up just short of the line and Ryan Hickey was also denied by the Thatto defence before Ronny Broderick scored a well-deserved try in the corner, capping off a brilliant break from Tom Rogers. The Bears were now comfortably ahead at 34-4.
Thatto struggled to regain possession, and Ashton took full advantage. George Green, showcasing his solo brilliance, sold multiple dummies that left the Crusaders' defenders in disarray, scoring his second try of the afternoon and bringing the Bears' lead to a commanding 38-4.
Ashton maintained their professionalism in the remaining minutes, despite Broderick being sin-binned due to a misunderstanding with the referee. Thatto capitalised on their advantage and managed to score a consolation try, but it was too little, too late. The final whistle blew with the Ashton Bears emerging as convincing winners, securing a well-deserved 38-10 win.
The Bears now set their sights on the NWC Youth Cup Final, scheduled for either the 17th of September or the 1st of October, with the venue yet to be confirmed. Save the date to witness the thrilling culmination of the Ashton Bears' outstanding campaign in the tournament.
Final Score - Thatto Heath 10-38 Ashton Bears
Man of the Match - Ethan Bibby
Match Photos (Courtesy of Ruth Ward)