By Eck: Springhead’s Zach earns Challenge Cup glory at Wembley

THE FINAL score at Wembley officially read Warrington 8 Wigan 18 – it could also have been Springhead 1 Grasscroft 0.

For Zach Eckersley’s try scoring heroics made sure he got one over Josh Thewlis.

The Saddleworth-based pair squared off against each other in front of almost 65,000 people on Saturday, June 8.

It was a proud day for Waterhead ARLFC – where both came through – but when the final hooter sounded, it was Eckersley who was celebrating.

Former Saddleworth School pupil, Waterhead Warrior and now Wigan Challenge Cup Final Winner – Zach Eckersley. Image by Gemma Carter

His 18th minute try was the stuff of dreams after receiving the call from coach Matt Peet that he would be playing following Adam Keighran’s suspension.

Not bad for only his fifth first-team appearance for the Warriors – and first in the Challenge Cup.

“It’s a bit surreal,” Springhead’s Eckersley told Saddleworth Independent at Wembley, still in his playing kit with his medal around his neck.

“When I started the year, I didn’t expect to be playing at Wembley, but everything happens for a reason.

“Obviously, I feel bad for Adam, but he helped me all week.”

On his try, which came from Bevan French’s kick and had to be confirmed by video referee Liam Moore, the 20-year-old admitted: “It was a weird moment. All the fans roared and I didn’t really know what to do.

“I celebrated and when it came up as a try, I was just buzzing. You obviously dream about scoring tries at the best stadiums in the world like Wembley, so it’s a dream come true.

“Matty called last Monday night after everything came out about the ban. He told me I’d be playing. I was just excited, looking forward to it, but nervous as well, which is understandable.

“It was my fifth appearance and my first Challenge Cup appearance.

“But the main thing was just to relax. I knew when the game started, I’d come into my own.”

After the late-ish call, the Warriors sorted tickets for Eckersley’s family – 17 of them who were left beaming after his performance.

While Waterhead will be celebrating after Eckersley followed the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Paul Sculthorpe, Barrie McDermott and Marc Sneyd from Peach Road to Wembley glory, someone else will have had a grin on his face.

Saddleworth School PE teacher Gary Melling, who the new hero credits for bringing him on as he played for them, alongside Jack Sinfield.

It is also another victory for Springhead, which has plenty of representation in Super League.

Eckersley said: “I went to school with Kev’s lad Jack. We played together in school team. We had a great team and got to the national final.

“I’ve not spoken to them much since, but I know they’re rooting for me as a local boy.

“I grew up in Waterhead, just around the corner from the club with my dad and my mum lives in Grotton. I grew up in Saddleworth.

“And with Josh on the other team, there was a guaranteed winner from Waterhead.

“It’s a great club and thanks to all my coaches who have helped me since I was back there as well.

“Huddersfield’s Oliver Russell is just down the road, while Fenton Rogers is around the corner.

“Warrington’s Tom Whitehead is there while Jacob Douglas at Wigan is a couple of streets away. There’s a lot of good talent around Oldham and Saddleworth.

“It’s just like Wigan. It’s a working-class town, a massive rugby town and everyone just loves working hard and playing rugby.

“There are a lot of idols you can look up to. Paul, Kevin and Barrie are all from Oldham. It’s a great place to be from.

“I’ve had a few chats with Barrie actually. He’s spoken to me quite a bit and I appreciate everything he’s done for me.”

Maintaining the link with Sinfield, Eckersley’s glory came on the day rugby league honoured the late, great Rob Burrow, who passed away on Sunday, June 2 after living with motor neurone disease (MND) for four-and-a-half years.

His former captain’s monumental fundraising feats have seen millions of pounds raised for MND charities – his fifth in December will finish where there first one started, Grasscroft’s Farrars Arms pub.

Minute’s silences before the men’s and women’s Challenge Cup finals were impeccably observed, while fans joined in applauses in the seventh minute of all four matches that day.

And the Leeds Rhinos icon was in Eckersley’s thoughts, even after his big moment.

He said: “I’m a Saddleworth boy and obviously Kev’s the biggest name from around Saddleworth.

“This was all about Rob Burrow, Kev’s best mate, so it was testament to Rob.

“He was a great player and it was great to do that for his family.”


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