Warriors create history with first-ever National Cup win

WATERHEAD Warriors delivered on the biggest day in the club’s 102-year history as they lifted the BARLA Open Age National Cup for the first time on Sunday, April 11.

More than 500 fans travelled to Featherstone Rovers to watch Warriors defeat Yorkshire side Sharlston Rovers 42-0, a record score in a final.

It was an eight-try demolition as Jenson Hamilton scored two and there were also touchdowns for Evan Campbell, Mason Young, Gareth Owen, Phil Joy, Martyn Sarsfield and Jake O’Grady while Kegan Brennan kicked five conversions.

The celebrations continued long into the night as the team from division three of the National Conference League produced possible the most amazing success in the competition’s long and illustrious history.

Up for the cup. Photo Josh Harper

And it was especially sweet for Owen, 29, from Moorside who returned to the club this season following a career in the professional game.

He said: “I have played in some big games in my career including three promotion finals, winning two of them.

“This was definitely up alongside them, if not the best achievement. At the end of the day we are a division three team in the National Conference League winning the National Cup. It is the biggest amateur competition in rugby, so we are effectively the best amateur team in England.”

Waterhead fans outside the ground. Photo Josh Harper

Owen, who had previously captained Oldham RL and played 38 times for Salford Red Devils, added he was struck by the enormity of the occasion.

“I have never been as nervous as I was before the game, and I have been involved in some big ones,” he continued.

“But from the first minute, we were never going to lose the game and smashed it with a record score in the final.

Jon and James Perks, Keith and Kegan Brennan

“It didn’t matter, though, if we won by one or by 100 points. It was about winning and lifting the trophy, and I was buzzing to be part of it.”

Owen added it was extra special bearing in mind his links to the club.

He said: “I started playing at Waterhead aged four, and to be part of this has been unbelievable.

Try scorer Martyn Sarsfield

“I always made it clear I wanted to come back and play with my mates at the end of my career for a few years and to win a trophy here. And to do that with them is a great feeling.

“Captain Mitchell Birch, Dale Low and Matty Holland are three of my best mates. I have also played alongside Phil Joy and Danny Bridge throughout my career and they are also good mates and great they have also returned to Waterhead when they began their playing days.

Champagne flows as Waterhead lift cup. Photo Josh Harper

“All 25 of the lads are good mates. We all drink together and there is a great spirit and togetherness in the group.”

Owen was also delighted for joint coaches Jon Perks and Keith Brennan, continuing: “The club has had some bad years in which they have struggled at times to raise a team.

“To come back from that and create a good team with a good spirit and to win the cup in such an achievement for the coaches, the club and for the players.”

Crowd scene by Jackie Clowes

Owen is hoping it is the first part of a treble for Warriors.

“We have ticked the National Cup and now have the final of the Standard Cup against Saddleworth Rangers on Good Friday and hopefully we can win our league as well,” he said.

“We cannot rest on our laurels, though, as Saddleworth are a good side.”

It was quite a journey for Warriors, who play in division three of the NCL and who have never previously progressed further than the quarter finals of the National Cup.

And Perks, also club chairman, admitted the success took the club by surprise, explaining: “We only entered the National Cup to treat the games as friendlies before the start of our league season in March.

Photo Josh Harper

“It has just grown and before we knew it, we were in the quarter finals, and we suddenly thought we can have a go at winning it.

“When we beat North West Counties League, premier division champions Orrell St James in the quarter finals, we thought we may have a chance.”

Perks described the 56-10 victory in the semi-final against Myton, a team two divisions higher in the NCL, as their best of the season.

“In the first half, we were outstanding, faultless. We had blown them away by half-time,” he said.

Perks was similarly delighted with the way they overcame Sharlston Rovers, National Cup winners in 2011, 13 and 14 and were losing finalists in 2012 and 15.

He said: “All their games are on YouTube, and we did our homework and how to nullify their best players.

“It was a professional performance. The lads were relaxed and knew what to do and did it.
“It was a fantastic day and one everyone connected with the club will remember for a long time.

Kegan Brennan prepares for a conversion

“I am especially pleased for the lads who stuck with us through the tough times, it is credit to them.

“It is not long ago we were getting eight players to training, now it is 40 and we have two open age senior sides and the whole club is moving forward.”

On a personal note for joint coaches Perks and Brennan, it was special as both their sons James and Kegan played in the side.

“It has been hard for them having their dads as coaches,” said Perks.

“They are always the coaches’ sons and people can look at it one of two ways, but both stood out in the final and they are good lads.”

Perks, a former professional rugby league player, added it was great to join neighbours Saddleworth Rangers who won the National Cup in 1991, 93 and 94 and were losing finalists in 1990, a golden era in that club’s history.

“I went to every one of those finals. Mick Coates put together a great team and to emulate them was brilliant,” he said.

Warriors’ path to glory:
• Round one: Cockermouth 6, Waterhead 64
• Round two: Normanton Knights 14, Waterhead 18
• Quarter-final: Waterhead 38, Orrell St James 12
• Semi-final: Waterhead 56, Myton Warriors 10
• Final: Sharlston Rovers 0, Waterhead 42.

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