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Ashleigh’s set for a Loft-y league career

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Jot down the name of talented youngster Ashleigh Loft in your little black book.

Chances are you’re likely to hear more about the Merriwa product in the not-too-distant future.

And, the 17-year-old has set herself a big 2024 as she eyes off a full-time rugby league career.

After plying her trade with the Magpies, Muswellbrook Rams and Scone Thoroughbreds in the Upper Hunter in recent seasons, Loft returned from a successful tour of the United Kingdom with the Australian Wanderers.

The invitational U17 outfit, which also included fellow Group 21 players Mackenzie Day (Denman), Malaki Poa (Scone) and Charlie Milton (Scone), came home undefeated.

“We played four games – and won them all,” the St Joseph’s Catholic College Aberdeen student said.

“It was good to go overseas, see new places and play against new people.

“They have a few different rules in the UK, so it was kind of fun to learn how they played, too.

“Although it was really cold over there, it was definitely a great experience.

“The best part was playing footy with a whole bunch of different girls from various parts of Australia.

“Then to face players from other parts of the world was pretty special.

“I’ve made a lot of friends from it, both in Australia and the UK, which is nice.”

Now, Loft – a centre or second-rower – is focusing her attention as a member of the Newcastle Knights Tarsha Gale squad.

The Andrew Johnson-coached team sits in fifth place on the ladder following victories over the Canberra Raiders (16-10) and Wests Tigers (24-4).

Newcastle will enjoy a bye this weekend before tackling the Manly Sea Eagles at the Cessnock Sportsground on Saturday 2 March.

“I linked up with the Knights at the end of last year – and we’re only a few rounds into the competition this season,” Loft said.

“It’s really good.

“Obviously, it’s a much higher level of league.

“The only downside, I guess, is the travel.

“Living in Merriwa, we’re like two-and-a-half-hours away from Newcastle.

“Just to attend training, which is three times a week, it can be difficult to fit everything in.

“But, I am sure it’s worth it.

“I’m definitely enjoying myself.

“I love footy, being fit and training.”

When her Knights’ commitments wrap up, Loft will then join Western Suburbs for the inaugural Oporto Women’s Premiership in Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL).

The competition was formed to create a strong local pathway to the NRLW.

“Since there’s no sides out this way, I’m linking with the Rosellas,” she told the Newcastle Weekly.

“It should be good; I am looking forward to it.

“And, because it’s a new format, it’s exciting.

“I think it’ll be strong… there are a lot of good players [out there] who are on the fringe for the Knights as well.

“At this stage, I haven’t set myself any goals.

“I’d just like to go as far as I can… and if I’m good at it, I suppose I’ll keep going.

“That’s pretty much how I approach the game.

“I’m lucky I’ve had some really good coaches along the way, from Matt Morgan (Merriwa Magpies) to Al Baker and Gary ‘Bomber’ Jones at the Muswellbrook Rams.

“I love them all.

“Then I had Wayne Heldey and (Knights star) Yasmin Clydsdale at the Thoroughbreds. “She was our sister coach last year… and she was awesome.”

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