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Blacksticks Finals Day a great success

By Peter Elliott

The finals of this season\'s Blacksticks Challenge were played at Southport last weekend. Thanks to the host club for a great day! Here are the results - U13 Cup - Preston Grasshoppers 5 Fylde 5 (Preston won after drop-kick contest) U14 Cup - Manchester 17 Leigh 14 U15 Cup - Preston Grasshoppers 6 Manchester 3 U16 Cup - Manchester 14 Waterloo 12 U13 Bowl - Liverpool St. Helens 61 Trafford MV 7 U15 Bowl - Tarleton 17 Oldham 14 JUNIOR CUP FINALS – 25th ANNIVERSARY HELD AT SOUTHPORT RUFC Preston Grasshoppers’ and Manchester’s youngsters claimed the plaudits at the 25th Anniversary celebration of Lancashire’s Junior Cup Finals, held at Southport Rugby Club on Sunday [28th April]. With 38 Lancashire clubs battling it out in all weathers from October onwards to Cup Finals day, Preston Grasshoppers’ Under 13s opened up a rain-soaked annual festival with a tense encounter against Fylde. A try-a-piece result at full-time went to a drop-kick shoot out. After grounding Preston’s only try to equalise the score, Kieran Wilkinson’s sure-footed strike from the 22 metre line secured the navy & white ribbons on the Under 13s Cup. In doing so, Hoppers matched Widnes’ long-held record of winning at least one of the four age group trophies in each of seven consecutive years. Manchester fought off a spirited Leigh side to retain their a 12 – 0 half-time lead, holding on at the end with Leigh finishing the stronger to take the Under 14s ‘Blacksticks Blue’ Cup and denying their regional rivals a late score to win 17 - 14. Three penalty kicks was all that Manchester and Preston Grasshoppers\' Under 15s could muster in an attritional hour when handling errors counted for more than positive open-play rugby but steam was rising from defensive encounters at both ends of the pitch. Hoppers’ Harry Bashall slotted two penalty kicks, one each side of half-time, to register a 6 - 3 winning margin. With two victories on the day, Hoppers have won 22 of the 100 Junior Cup Finals matches played over the first twenty-five years, double the 11 amassed by West Park (St Helens) with Fylde ranked third with 10, most recently in 2009. In total, 19 different Lancashire Clubs have their name etched on the Cup trophy. In the final match of the competition, sponsored by Inglewhite-based Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses, Manchester Under 16s won the Under 16s ‘Blacksticks Blue’ Cup to add to their earlier Under 14s’ success with a 14 – 12 thriller in which Manchester’s, Tom O’Mahony shone through the gloom to win the Under 16s Man of the Match award. Lancashire Rugby Union’s Vice President, David Hodgson, noted at the Presentation ceremony to conclude the event that that the quality of the rugby was evident from the scores: “Today we have enjoyed at Southport, in difficult conditions, four highly competitive matches with just a three-point difference as the highest winning margin. It has been an excellent tribute to the players, coaches and other volunteers involved”. Also during the festival, to complete the Bowl competition, Trafford MV came back strongly in the second half but had too much to do to stop Liverpool St Helens winning the Under 13s match. In what was arguably the most flowing match of the day, in an exciting contest which could have won by either side, Tarleton Under 15s beat Oldham 17-14.