Warrington Wolves u16 46 Cumbria Regional Academy u16 16
EMERGING Wolves talent wanted to do justice to Wilderspool Stadium on its final outing and they did exactly that on a night of poetic contrast.
The clapped out rugby league theatre, with its crumbling terraces, peeling paintwork and vandalised surrounds, played host for one last time to some of the freshest and brightest rugby league prospects in the country.
A sell-out crowd of 800, a mere whisper to the 30,000 ‘gates’ once attracted to Wolves’ old home ground, left the scene having been nourished by memories of past glories but also encouraged with what the future may bring.
The youngsters, inspired to be treading the same turf as Warrington legends like Brian Bevan, Alex Murphy and Les Boyd, were an inspiration themselves.
“There were 15 debutants out there and most of the team had not played at that level before,” said head coach Gary Chambers, himself a Wilderspool hero from 1989 to 2000.
“I thought they were great. It shows where we are with our youth now – that they can turn in that sort of performance and develop that sort of team commitment.”
Not only were these boys contesting their first game together, as 15-year-olds they were playing a year above their age.
And they were doing so against a strong Cumbria team that included six players from the national champion Bowdales School team in Barrow.
Ironically it was another Bowdales pupil, Ryan Johnston, who scored the final try at Wilderspool after having joined Wolves a week earlier (see story below).
Ryan Johnston, stood far left, was the scorer of the last try
And it was fitting that on such a historic occasion that the Warrington side featured the son of an ex-crowd favourite who had scored one of the stadium’s most iconic Super League tries.
Cumbrian Jon Roper, who touched down against St Helens in 1996 after having sped 80 metres with blood pouring from his nose while being chased by full back Steve Prescott, would have been just as proud of Jack’s effort on Thursday night as he side-stepped to the line with similar determined quality.
Jon Roper's iconic Wilderspool try of the Super League era
Son Jack Roper's try in the last match at Wilderspool
Young Roper joined Joe Buckley, Sam Kershaw and Jordan Williams on the list of try scorers, while Jake Carter and Liam Aspin added goals.
Having taken a whirlwind 16-0 start, with the pre-match team talk from ex-Wolves stars Mike Nicholas and Mark Forster ringing in their ears, they had to dig deep as Cumbria cut the gap to 16-12 by the break.
Jordan Williams crossed for two tries
But showing their fitness, strength and skill, four converted tries in the final 20 minutes of action on the 116-year-old ground ensured Wolves’ youngsters achieved a winning send-off.
They provided some fresh memories to add to the treasure trove that will never be forgotten long after Wilderspool Stadium has gone.
Referee Tara Jones, right, and her match officials leave the pitch
Wolves u16: Regan Croft; Sam Kershaw (2t), Ryan Taylor, Jack Roper (1t), Joe Buckley (1t); Bruce Martinus, Jake Carter (6g); Jordan Williams (2t), George Moore, Declan Rodgers, Ethan Duffy, Alex Tankard, Ellis Robson. Subs: Rahan Patel, Ryan Johnston (2t), Oliver De Petrillo, Rony Frank, Liam Aspin (1g).
Cumbria Regional Academy u16: Kieran Mews; Kieran Walker, Jonathan Cameron, Ryan Smith, Rhys Pritchard; Dylan Barrow, Joe Satterthwaite; Dominic O'Brien, Jack Gordon, Grady Slater, Connor Fitzsimmons, Lewis Pritchard, Jake Corrie. Subs: Jacques O'Neill, Callum Kinrade, Caine Barnes, Danny Wright.