Matty Ashe

HALF-BACK Matty Ashe is back on contract at Oldham RL Club after leaving at the end of last season to switch codes and take up rugby union.

The 25-year-old New Zealander, a favourite of the Whitebank crowd last season, dabbled in the 15-a-side game in the Birmingham area; at Cinderford in Gloucestershire; and more recently at the Liverpool St Helens club, where he played twice for the first XV.

“We released Matty so he could pursue an interest in rugby union,” said Roughyeds coach Tony Benson, “but, having tried his luck on the RU circuit, he prefers the game he has played all his life — league — and he was keen to come back to us.

“For our part, we are delighted to welcome him back.”

The versatile Ashe, a good goalkicker who played for Junior Kiwis in his younger days, can play equally well in either of the half-back positions and can also operate at hooker and at loose-forward.

A key member of last year’s Roughyeds squad, Ashe played in 22 of the club’s 28 games in cup and league, scoring eight tries and kicking 78 goals.

He was automatic scrum-half choice in the first half of the season, starting in 16 of the first 17 games and landing 64 goals at an average of four a game.

The arrival on loan of Gregg McNally gave Benson more selection options at half-back with the result that in the second part of the season the half-back load was shouldered by McNally, Ashe and Neil Roden, with McNally and Ashe also sharing goalkicking duties.

Ashe, nevertheless, contributed much to Oldham’s second-place finish in Co-operative Championship One, earning his reward when he won his first full Ireland international cap (qualifying thanks to Irish grandparents) and went on to play three times for Ireland at half-back with McNally operating in the same team at full-back.

Ashe’s younger brother Nathan, a 19-year-old full-back with Super League outfit St Helens, has been promoted this year to the Saints’ senior squad.

Elder brother’s decision to leave rugby union behind and to return to league with Roughyeds opens up the possibility of both Ashe boys lining up for Ireland in the same squad — a family ambition.

Said Matty: “I watched the Law Cup game and I’ve trained with Oldham a couple of times since and, to be honest, it felt as though I had never been away. It was good to be back.

“The team played well to beat Rochdale, and it was pleasing to see the young guys coming through so well and making their mark. It augurs well for the coming season and beyond.

“I’ve played a few games of rugby union up and down the country in the past three months, but now I’m looking forward to another season at Whitebank.”

Roughyeds play their second pre-season game at Featherstone Rovers on Saturday (5.30pm kick off) but it isn’t known yet whether Ashe will be included in the squad or whether he will be required to do more training first in order to catch up with his colleagues.