Wigan Warriors today confirmed that Chris Ashton had decided to join Rugby Union from the beginning of the 2008 season.
Explaining the background Wigan Chairman Maurice Lindsay told wiganwarriors.com that the issue had been ongoing for the past three weeks.
"We were contacted at the end of the 2006 by Andrew Clarke who told us that he would be taking over the management of Chris Ashton. At the same time he acknowledged that Chris was only half way through a two year contract and as such he did not want us to make an offer there and then but would speak to us early in the 2007 season about a contract for 2008. We accepted that in good faith.
"When he did approach us in February 2007 he told us that he had been speaking to at least six Rugby Union clubs. We were shocked and Brian Noble spoke to Chris Ashton. It was Brian's belief that Chris would not be ready for top grade rugby union and it would be a poor career decision. Brian also met with Chris Ashton's father but was unable to change their thinking.
"Nevertheless we put forward an offer to Andrew Clarke for a contract to take Chris through to 2009 with a built in promise we would re visit the contract if Chris made the required progress. The contract we offered would have been higher than the contracts agreed by Sean O'Loughlin and Gareth Hock at the same age and stage of their careers.
"We heard nothing more for two weeks but we were then advised by Andrew Clarke that Chris would be joining Northampton Rugby Union club on a salary of £140,000 per year."
Maurice further added,
"Brian Noble, quite understandably, did not want to spend £140,000 out of a salary cap limit of £1.6 million on a young player who was still in a stage of development."
Brian Noble said,
"I am disappointed to be losing a player of Chris's potential. The club has tried extremely hard to convince him his future is in Rugby League. The club also has a commitment to put the best possible team forward for the Wigan people, a balance in recruitment has to be found. I am not sure at this stage of his career whether Chris is making the right decision, however we wish him well for the future. It's disappointing that Rugby League has lost another talented outside back."
Maurice Lindsay concluded,
"We like Chris alot and did not want him to go to Rugby Union. At this stage of his career we think he is being badly advised and would have been better to work on his game for at least another two years when he would have matured and be in a position to earn a good salary in either League or Union. We think he is making a mistake and knowing Rugby Union as I do they will put unfair pressure upon him, particularly as he will be a high salary earner. Chev Walker and Karl Pryce are still coming to terms with the different game and we all know how much criticism has been heaped unfairly on Andy Farrell. We of course have to work with a strict salary cap, unlike Rugby Union, so to make Chris one of the highest earners in the club would have been difficult to explain to some of the other players who are at least playing for Great Britain. Nevertheless we wish Chris well in his new profession. He will of course remain a Wigan player until the end of the 2007 season and will remain part of Brian Noble's first team squad."