Updated: Nov 13
Ashton Bears entered this final clash of the season, needing just a victory or a draw to secure the NWC Division 2 title. In addition to the trophy hanging in the balance, the match marked the last appearance for Ethan Bibby and Tom Rogers for the Under 18s, who would soon be making the transition to open-age rugby. Notably, Jayden Aaron, from the U16s was selected to play up for the U18s for this pivotal game.
The stage was set for an intense battle as the Ashton Bears kicked off the game and immediately imposed themselves with ferocious tackles, pressuring the Chorley Panthers into their own half.
It didn't take long for the Bears to assert their dominance. In just the second minute, Callum Cottington carved through Chorley's defence to secure the first points of the game. The swift, accurate ball movement allowed the Bears to exploit the opportunity, and Cottington powered over the line.
The first quarter of the game saw Ashton dictating the play, keeping the Panthers starved of possession, although the Chorley defence held firm. A critical moment came in the 12th minute when Ashton's winger, van Zelst, displayed a textbook finish. A well-executed play through the middle of the field by Ashton's Ronny Broderick set the stage, and George Green's graceful footwork made it possible. A perfectly weighted kick from Ward found van Zelst in the corner, where he displayed excellent ball control under pressure from a swarming Chorley defence.
A tenacious Panthers side mounted a comeback, putting together a period of sustained pressure, which saw them camped in Ashton's territory. The Bears, however, stood resolute, denying Chorley any inroads.
It wasn't long before Ashton regrouped and reclaimed the initiative. Isaac Wheeler's charge-down from a kick led to another brilliant passage of play. Ethan Bibby unleashed a scintillating run through the Panthers' defensive line, while Cottington put his trust in the perfect timing of the supporting George Green. With no defenders in sight, Green crossed the whitewash, and the conversion by Matty Ward extended Ashton's lead to 14-0.
As the first half entered its final stages, Danny Hill came achingly close to adding to Ashton's tally but was forced into touch just short of the try line.
The 32nd minute witnessed Ronny Broderick's classic scoot from dummy-half, his first try of the game, further affirming Ashton's supremacy as they entered halftime with a commanding 20-0 lead.
The beginning of the second half saw Ashton come out red-hot, asserting their desire to dominate this game. As the half reached the 4th minute, the intensity of Ashton's control became ever more evident. Jayden Aaron, who was playing up from the U16s Under, produced a dynamic surge through the heart of the Chorley defence. His remarkable effort culminated in a perfectly timed inside pass to the supporting George Green, who completed the move under the uprights. Ward's conversion extended Ashton's lead to 26 points.
The Bears continued their relentless march, adding an exceptional try in the 7th minute. Tom Rogers paved the way with a powerful carry, while George Green's mesmerising footwork kept the Panther's defenders guessing. Ward, with a swerving run of his own, finished the class act from the Bears, and his successful conversion increased the advantage to 32 points.
Despite being well behind on the scoreboard, Chorley showed admirable determination, putting in some impressive tackles. However, they could not prevent Ashton from adding to their total.
In the 18th minute, Ronny Broderick notched his second try of the day with yet another scoot from dummy-half, a testament to his efforts this afternoon. In the absence of the injured Ward, Broderick added the extra 2 points himself, affirming Ashton's dominance at 38-0.
Ashton were now in full control, with the result well beyond doubt. The 26th minute marked a significant contribution from Isaac Mather, who had been longing to secure his first try for the amber and gold. His powerful drive into Panther's territory initiated a rapid sequence of events. Ethan Bibby, demonstrating electrifying speed, left the Chorley defence in the dust before offloading to the supporting Goodban who grounded the ball to score and further emphasising Ashton's superiority. Broderick added the conversion from in front of the sticks.
The final minutes were all about Ashton, as the Bears continued to solidify their control over the game. Jayden Aaron returned the ball from the kick-off with remarkable power and pace, forcing the Panthers to backtrack into their own half. With the Panthers on their heels, Ethan Bibby took the next carry and showcased his breathtaking pace once again. Sprinting 35 metres through the field, Bibby completed his phenomenal solo try, showcasing his incredible talent and capping off an outstanding performance. Mather slotted the extras with a guest appearance at the kicking tee.
In the 33rd minute, Ashton concluded the day with Ronny Broderick sealing his hat-trick in characteristic fashion with another scoot from dummy half. This resounding victory not only secured the victory but also awarded Ashton the title of U18 NWC Division 2 Champions.
The Ashton Bears U18s finished the season unbeaten after consistently performing with a blend of resilience, skill, creativity, and teamwork that defined them as true champions.
Final Score: Chorley Panthers 0-54 Ashton Bears
Man of the Match: Ethan Bibby
Video highlights courtesy of Pericles van Zelst