Neil Brittain and Josh Corkett both won the biggest titles of their careers to date in Blackpool last weekend in front of the live FreeSports television cameras.
The duo were the opening event champions on the expanded 2022 Ultimate Pool Challenger Series. Following on from the success of its inaugural campaign – and due to overwhelming demand – this season’s eight-event Series has increased in capacity from 128 players per event in 2021, to 288. The total prize money on offer has also significantly risen with over £200,000 set to be paid out across the campaign.
As part of Ultimate Pool’s tiered structure, the top 16 ranked players at the end of the 2022 Challenger Series season will all earn automatic promotion to the organisation’s professional ranks for 2023.
THE BEST OF BRITTAIN
Coseley cueist Brittian was perhaps better known for his success on the money match scene, but he proved his tournament prowess at The Grand Hotel as he walked away with the Event One trophy and a £7,000 first prize.
The first player to complete this season’s gauntlet, Brittain eliminated Joe Nulty (6-3), Callum Kendall (6-4), Jack Schofield (6-2), James Brookens (6-4), Corkett (6-3) and then talented young Scot Morgan McInnes 6-3 to reach the televised semi-finals in the main arena.
Returning for the resumption, he was involved in an entertaining encounter with former World Masters champion Callum Singleton. There was never more than a frame between them throughout as they also traded the lead, but it was Brittain who capitalised on a mistake from his opponent in the deciding frame to oust it 6-5.
Brittain’s opponent in the final was fellow Englishman Arron Priest – a former world junior team champion. Belper-based Priest saw off Northern Ireland’s Robert McCullogh 6-2 in the other last four fixture.
The opening seven frames of the final all went with the breaker, but Brittain broke that sequence by claiming the eighth and creating a two-frame gap for the first time. Priest kept himself in it, though, and looked like setting up a deciding frame when he appeared to be on course for a break clearance in frame 12.
However, Priest snookered himself on his last colour. Brittain – nicknamed ‘The Moped’ - held himself together, clearing the table to win 7-5 and gaining valuable ranking points in his pursuit of professional status for next season.
Another player celebrating a £7,000 windfall later on the same day was Corkett, who triumphed in Event Two.
Off the back of a fine run to the last 16 in Event One on Friday – where he was stopped by Brittain – Bridgwater’s Corkett continued in a similar vein of form throughout the rest of the weekend.
In the round of 256 he managed to overcome recent Challenger Grand Slam finalist Phil Parkin 6-3 before victories over Eddie Roberts (6-5), Jack Heckingbottom (6-1), Alex Cameron (6-5), Kris Hampson (6-2), Rob Sim (6-0) and Welsh captain Andy Williams 6-2 in the semi-finals.
Joining Corkett in the final on the TV table was Eastbourne’s Ian Whitehorn, who denied Northern Ireland’s Gary Clarke 6-3 in the other last four affair.
After Corkett chalked up the first frame, Whitehorn secured the following two to briefly take the lead at 2-1. However, it would be the only time in the match where he was out in front, as Corkett claimed five of the next six frames to move 6-3 ahead with little time left on the match-clock.
A gallant Whitehorn kept things interesting as he completed speedy back-to-back clearances to reduce his arrears to just one frame, but when Corkett made a ball off his break in frame 12 with just seconds left, the tie was effectively over, 6-5.
Former world junior team champion Corkett takes an early lead in the overall rankings with 7,000 points to his name and already looks in a very strong position for promotion.
Events 3 and 4 of the 2022 Challenger Series take place in Birmingham between the 15th-18th April.