After the summer break, both the Widnes St Maries and Ashton Bears Under 18s teams returned to the field, hungry for victory. The match carried added significance with Callum Cottington making his long-awaited return after a knee injury and Ashton missing their regular starting hooker, Ronny Broderick, with Ryan Hickey stepping in as his replacement.
The opening five minutes of the game saw both teams struggling with unforced errors, resulting in scrappy play. However, it didn't take long for Ashton to find their rhythm. In the 5th minute, George Green ignited the Bears' offence, scooting from dummy half to score, capitalising on solid runs by Ethan Bibby and Tom Shaw. Matty Ward's successful conversion added two more to the scoreboard. Just four minutes later, Ashton showcased their attacking prowess once again. Following the restart, Ward collected the ball with vigor, and Joe Rustage powered through the middle. This set the stage for Ethan Bibby, who embarked on a sensational solo run, sprinting 50 meters to cap it off with a brilliant try under the posts. Ward, maintaining his composure, slotted the conversion.
At the 16-minute mark, Ashton's dominance continued, with Alfie Leah coming close to scoring as he was held up over the line. However, Ashton swiftly switched the play in the very next move, allowing George Green to find Ethan Bibby, who touched down under the posts once more. Ward's conversion was on point, further bolstering Ashton's lead.
As the half progressed, Ashton's control of the game became evident, and Widnes struggled to gain possession. Connor Ashley came close to adding to the lead, but the referee deemed a knock-on in the build-up, disallowing the try. The game took a contentious turn in the 31st minute when Tom Shaw was sin-binned for a perceived push, leaving Ashton with 12 men for a brief spell. Despite being a player down, Ashton remained in control, looking to exploit space on the Widnes left edge. Ethan Goodban appeared poised to finish off an exceptional move in the corner but couldn't quite control the pass. As the first half drew to a close, Ashton held a commanding 24-0 lead. It was clear that Widnes would need a miracle to mount a comeback.
The second half kicked off with Ashton still feeling the effects of the warm weather and their time with 12 players. Widnes seized this opportunity and finally breached the Ashton defense, scoring a try down the Bears' right side and converting the kick to put their first points on the board.
Ashton regained their full complement when Tom Shaw returned in the 5th minute of the second half. However, Widnes remained resilient, continuing to fight for pride. In the 10th minute, Callum Cottington made a welcome return to the field, replacing Ryan Hickey at hooker, marking his first appearance after a long-term knee injury.
Just a minute later, Ashton looked to reestablish their dominance. They forced an error from Widnes, and from the ensuing scrum, the ball found its way to Ethan Bibby. Cottington then located George Green with a well-timed pass. Green showcased his brilliance with a deceptive sidestep, scoring just to the right of the posts. Ward's conversion was impeccable, maintaining his perfect record with the boot in this match.
Widnes, still playing for pride, continued to exert pressure in the Ashton half. However, the Bears' defence remained resolute. Matty Ward forced a turnover with a powerful tackle that rattled a Widnes player. In the 16th minute, Ashton demonstrated their attacking prowess once more. Isaac Wheeler and Connor Ashley combined to position the Bears well on the field. Ward, instrumental all afternoon, found himself close to scoring, but he was held up over the line. The 21st minute saw Ashton sustain pressure on the Widnes line. After Matty Ward came close again, Callum Cottington seized the opportunity, scoring with a scoot from dummy half that the absent Ronny Broderick would have been proud of. Ward's conversion was once again successful, extending Ashton's lead to 36-6.
Widnes managed to score a try against the run of play in the 25th minute. Retaining possession from a questionable kick-off and benefiting from a fortunate bounce that caught Ashton flat-footed, they converted the try to make the score 36-12 in favour of Ashton. In the 30th minute, Ashton sought to regain momentum. Connor Ashley delivered a thunderous tackle on a Widnes player, forcing a knock-on and gifting possession to Ashton. Ward initiated a drive towards the posts, and George Green set up Jack Blake, who powered through the defence to score. Ward's conversion was precise, extending Ashton's lead even further.
With only seconds remaining on the clock, Ethan Bibby capped off an exceptional individual performance with his fourth try of the day. Ward retained his 100% afternoon with the boot when he calmly slotted over his 8th conversion from 8 attempts (with a little help from the post). Ashton secured a comprehensive 48-12 victory, though the game proved to be a tough physical battle and not as comfortable a win as the scoreline suggests.
Credit to both teams for their efforts and for delivering an entertaining game of rugby league.
Final Score: Widnes St Maries 12-48 Ashton Bears
Man of the Match: Matthew Ward
Video Highlights Courtesy of Pericles Van Zelst