Next Big Thing: Warrington full-back Matty Ashton
By Tom Mordey and Jenna Brooks
Last Updated: 13/05/20 1:03pm
Alex Walmsley, Chris Hill and Kyle Amor. Three big names who all started their rugby league careers outside of Super League. There are plenty of gems playing outside of the top division, but have Warrington discovered the latest one?
Matty Ashton arrived in the off-season with a big reputation. He dazzled with Swinton in his first season of professional Rugby League. The Lions secured a highest league finish in 21 years, in part to Ashton's 30 tries in just 25 games. That record earned him the Championship's Young Player of the Year award.
He'd already caught the eye of his new Warrington team-mate Stefan Ratchford.
Ashton might only be 21, but his Rugby League journey is already intriguing. He was a product of the Rochdale Mayfield club before his move to Swinton. The young back also spent a year in Australia, where he honed his skills playing for Mullumbimby Giants, who compete in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition in New South Wales.
His coach at Swinton, Stuart Littler, had already worked with a teenage Ashton as a community coach in Rochdale before giving him a trial with his Lions side.
"I'd seen a video on Twitter and I think he'd scored four tries and literally there was people right near him and within 10 yards, he'd absolutely left them for dead and I just thought how fast is this bloke."
"He just asked for an opportunity to earn a contract. I'm very close with Stefan Ratchford from when we were at Salford. I said to my assistant coach - he reminds me so much of Stef. I don't know what position he's actually going to play but he's going to play somewhere because he's that good."
"Obviously as a club, you want to keep your best players. I think what Matty showed went under the radar a bit and fair play to Karl Fitzpatrick at Warrington and the coaches there, they've seen something in him worth buying out of his contract and taking him over there and seeing what a full-time environment can do to someone."
"He's gone on. He's put some weight on which probably was needed from where he was. The worry is that you don't want him to lose that natural pace because that's what frightens everybody. He's exciting. Every time he touches the ball the fans are up. He's the man who can do something from nothing."
"Full respect to him and I can't compliment enough for what he brought to our organisation last year, how much he helped us as a team and we all wish him well from Swinton with where he's going and I know he holds us in a strong place in his heart too."
Equally adept at full-back, or on the wing, Ashton's try-scoring exploits were hard to ignore for the Super League scouts.
A move to Warrington was confirmed in August. Ashton was expected to challenge for the first team, but with Ratchford at full-back and Tom Lineham and Josh Charnley on the wings, a regular spot looked a difficult challenge. But head coach Steve Price was immediately impressed.
"What I saw him do in our pre-season was quite amazing. He added nearly eight or nine kilos to his frame. He's certainly got some wheels and how he developed and matured as a person made you feel proud.
"The games he played for us in that short amount of time, he certainly lived up to the expectation of how he trained in the pre-season. There's certainly a quality player there."
An opportunity presented itself immediately. Marquee signing Gareth Widdop was injured in training, meaning Ratchford had to step into the halves, while Ashton was propelled in at full-back for his Super League debut. Away at Wigan. Warrington lost the game, struggling after Chris Hill's red card, but Ashton made a name for himself with an electric performance.
He followed it the following week against St Helens, earning early Man of Steel points for his displays. He dropped out for Round 3 as the Wolves were beaten at Wakefield but returned against Toronto as Ratchford switched into the centres with Anthony Gelling absent.
Ashton scored his first Warrington try against the Wolfpack, showing his line-breaking ability to burst through a gap and then his blistering pace to finish it off. But then a hammer blow. Ashton tore his hamstring kicking a ball, an injury that left him facing five months on the sidelines. The enforced break from rugby league is actually beneficial for Ashton, whose season looked all but over as he started to make a name for himself.
Price gave us an update on his injury. "He's had the operation. He's doing amazing. He's doing all his rehab at home that is required of him. Hopefully, when we do get back up and running, he shouldn't be too far away from putting the Warrington jersey back on."
Speed is his obvious weapon. Price likened him to a Ferrari. And Warrington tried to utilise it against Wigan, kicking early in the tackle count for Ashton to chase. He's sharp around the ruck, looking to capitalise on offloads and his pace will be an obvious asset for the Wolves for years to come.
Ratchford said: "He's been unbelievable for us since he's come in. He's not afraid of doing the hard work. I'd say he's up there with one of the fittest in the club, strength-wise - he's really strong for his frame.
"I think the scary thing is he's still quite new to rugby, especially at professional level. The way he's come into the full-time environment has been unbelievable but the amount of growth that he's still got left in him as well, the potential is frightening and I think he's only going to get better and better over the next couple of years."
Littler thinks he'll go on to big things.
He said: "His first battle is to cement a place in that Warrington side. Obviously that might be coming in somewhere where you don't see yourself playing that position eventually. From that, I do think he is exciting."
"The world's his oyster at this moment in time. I know he wants to get as high as he can in the sport so I'd imagine that would be internationally, maybe NRL, that could be a dream at some point. He's not mentioned that but who knows. He's young enough to do it and he's got those qualities and attributes that's needed to succeed at the top level."
With a place in the England Knights Performance Squad after four games, Ashton's Rugby League journey is only just beginning. It's a journey that could go all the way to the top.