From the kick-off, Leigh East dominated early possession. However, Ashton, against the run of play, struck back with an impressive run from Aaron. A perfectly weighted cross-field kick from Hampson was fiercely contested and won by Shaw who outmuscled two defenders to score and give Ashton the lead.
As the game progressed, Leigh East maintained control, enjoying sustained possession and favourable field position. Momentum soon swung for Ashton after a colossal tackle from Green shifted the dynamics and provided Ashton a chance. A scintillating move from the scrum saw Hill bust a tackle and show his electrifying pace to go the full length of the field and score a spectacular try and increase Ashton's lead.
Although Ashton were ahead on the scoreboard at around 20 mins, neither team managed to sustain any meaningful possession due to multiple turnovers as the wind and rain intensified.
At 21 minutes, Ashton produced some brilliant play. Cottington and Aaron laid the platform with some strong carries and this set the stage for a switch of play to the left. A precise pass from Green to Ward, who skilfully shifted the ball to Hickey. Hickey then found Hill with a well timed pass and he crossed the whitewash for his second try of the game. Ashton were now comfortably ahead in the game.
Approaching the 31-minute mark, Leigh were in trouble again after they spilled the ball under defensive pressure from Sayer. Sayer picked up the loose ball and sprinted over the halfway line, securing a well deserved individual try. Ashton concluded the first half with a commanding lead of 16-0.
Leigh come out firing in the second half and their enthusiasm paid off with an early try. An unforced error from Ashton gifted possession to Leigh and they capitalised to score under the sticks. The try was converted to take the score to 6-16. Momentum was now with Leigh and The Bears needed a response to avoid letting this game slip away from them.
A turning point at 6 minutes in the half as Ashton, showcasing a brick-wall defence, seized possession deep in Leigh territory. From the resulting scrum, Ashley took a powerful drive, setting the stage for a well-coordinated move to the right. A perfectly timed pass from Green found Ward, breaking the line to score. Momentum had now swung back in Ashton's favour.
With Ashton in the ascendency they extended their lead through Hampson after a superb phase of play. Strong runs from Wheeler and Cottington, with Hickey breaking the line, paved the way for Hampson to showcase a burst of speed, finishing clinically after a defence splitting pass from Cottington. Broderick's conversion added two more points, cementing Ashton's dominance.
As we entered the final 10 min of the game Ashton were in complete control on both sides of the ball, and Leigh were playing like a team well beaten. Broderick capitalised on some lazy Leigh defence with a trademark try from a scoot near the line to extend Ashton's lead.
The game was now won for Ashton but you could clearly see they had no intention of reducing their intensity when Wheeler and Green combined to force a turnover with a thunderous tackle close to the Leigh try line. Shaw capitalised on the opportunity by picking up the loose ball and scoring an opportunistic try. Broderick's conversion pushed Ashton comfortably ahead at 36-6.
The game ended on a slightly sour note when Jayden Aaron was unfortunate to be shown a yellow card for what the referee deemed to be late contact in the penultimate tackle of the game. This did not overshadow Ashton's clinical, professional, and dominant performance. Ashton will now progress to the next round of the cup, with the fixture pencilled in to be played at Bear Park on the weekend of 25th February.
Final Score: 6-36
Man of the Match: Tom Shaw
Match Photos (Courtesy of Mike Crompton)