We have been saddened to learn of the passing of our former first team player and coach, Bill Ashurst who has passed away, this week (Tuesday 14th June). Two words can describe Bill Ashurst, amongst others, ‘controversial’ and ‘legendary’, and he will always hold a special place in the memories of Wakefield and Wigan fans.
Ashurst was already a rugby league legend before he arrived at Belle Vue in 1978. He had signed with Wigan in 1968, making his debut, as a winger, in a Lancashire Cup tie with St Helens in the September, Wigan losing out 16-19. A week later he moved into the centre position and in his 15th game he walked away with his first winners medal, a BBC2 TV Floodlit Trophy medal after a 7-4 victory over St Helens. He would pick up another three winners medals at Wigan but the ‘Cherry and Whites’ twice failed on the ‘big stage’ losing to Castleford, 2-7 in the 1970 Challenge Cup Final and to St Helens, 12-16, in the 1971 Championship Final after finishing top of the league, although he won the 1971 Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match in the final. He also played twice for Lancashire aswell a picking up three Great Britain caps in 1971-72.
His form was closely monitored in Australia and in 1973 he moved to Penrith Panthers after five seasons and 158 appearances at Central Park. He became a national hero in Sydney’s west and played 50 games, scoring 196 points, in his three seasons there. The Penrith public loved his all-round ball skills and kicking game and in 2006 he was named in the Panthers ‘Team of Legends’, 30 years after he had returned home. He returned to Wigan in 1977, playing another 21 games but after a fall-out, a record fee of £18,000 brought him to Trinity in April 1978 and he had immediate effect on the side in his four games remaining in the season. Fans still talk about his debut at Featherstone when he controlled the game not seen in years, scoring a try, kicking three goals, two drop goals, chipping over the defence constantly and he could have scored at the end, but the referee said he did not ground it after another chip and chase (to his dying day, Bill states he grounded it), and Rovers won 19-16. Then in game three he was sent off, at Hull KR, with John Burke.
The following season he was instrumental in Trinity reaching Wembley, but injuries affected any victory and would affect his remaining Trinity days. He only played eleven games in his second season and only 16 in his next four seasons before a knee injury, he had been carrying for years, forced him to retire. He became coach for the 1981-82 season but stripped of his best players, sold to balance the books, Trinity were relegated, and Bill moved on. He faded from the game before a short resurrection at Runcorn (1988-89).
In 2014 he wrote his autobiography, “Tries and Prayers. A Rugby League Journey” and his full story is now in ‘black and white’. His childhood days in Wigan, his playing days which covered 16+ years, followed by his later life discovering Christianity which has changed him.
Bill Ashurst was a true rugby league hero on both sides of the Pennines and both sides of the world. The club would like to pass on their sincere condolences to Bill’s family.