In many ways it should not come as a surprise that Chris Ashton became the first man to a century of Gallagher Premiership Rugby tries.

After all, Ashton has spent his entire career with a singular focus, either popping up on the shoulder or lurking on the wing before splashing over the line.

Even before a fresh-faced 21-year-old scored the first of his now 101 Premiership tries on a sunny September day 15 years ago, the excitement around Ashton was building.

The cross-code convert had scored tries for fun with Wigan as a teenager in rugby league, before rewriting the record-books in a single season in England’s second flight for Northampton Saints.

The Premiership account was opened in a 24-20 win over Wasps, pouncing on a fumbled ball by England’s Josh Lewsey, and since then, Ashton has not looked back.

And yet where many would dream of achieving what the Leicester Tigers winger has done in the code, his own childhood ambitions never included rugby union.

“When I was a kid I looked up to the try-scoring exploits of Shaun Edwards and Martin Offiah and if I can be judged to be only close to that bracket, I will be chuffed,” he said.

Ashton dreamed of playing rugby league for Wigan, to the point that he would break into the back garden of Warriors and Great Britain legend Andy Farrell, who happened to live a few streets away.

“I was about 10 or 11 and he lived four streets behind us,” Ashton told 5 Live’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast earlier this year.

“I used to climb over his back fence and see him in his kitchen.”

The two later went on to work together with Saracens and England, before Farrell senior took up his current role as coach of Grand Slam champions Ireland.

A big reason why Ashton has been so prolific comes from that league background, tracking play and constantly popping up in the right place at the right time.

It started with his early telepathic relationship with Ben Foden at Saints, followed by reading the runs of Alex Goode in his Saracens days and Toby Flood for England, not to mention combining with Semi Radradra during a record-breaking season in France with Toulon, Ashton just had that knack for crossing the whitewash.

Ashton has enjoyed a nomadic existence, six different Premiership clubs, as well as that year in Toulon when he broke the Top 14’s single-season try record.

Some of those stints have gone better than others. The nine tries over three and half seasons for Sale Sharks, Harlequins and Worcester Warriors after he returned from France, seemed to indicate a player on the decline.

And yet when he was thrown a lifeline by Steve Borthwick and given an opportunity for Leicester Tigers midway through last season, Ashton showed he still had that nose for the try line.

Tom Varndell’s Premiership try-record of 92 was equalled and then beaten, and after an injury-hit season this time around, Ashton’s hat-trick against Exeter Chiefs on Sunday took him to 100 and beyond.

The man who made his name with the ‘Ash Splash’ celebrated with the iconic Felipe Contepomi charge into the crowd to applaud his own try, a gesture made all the more delightful given that the Argentina great was in the crowd at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.

Some 30 miles away from where his union journey began, Ashton cemented his place among the greatest try-scorers the sport has ever seen.

At domestic level, he is the first centurion in England’s top flight, while also being the top try-scorer in the Heineken Champions Cup.

Little wonder, Richard Wigglesworth, his now coach and former teammate, described Ashton as the best try-scorer Europe and the Premiership has ever seen.

Ashton fully expects his record to be beaten, although close friend Danny Care is the closest active player, 18 tries behind, and unlikely to be the man to do it.

He said: “I am the first to reach the milestone of a hundred tries and I will be remembered for that although I’m sure many people will go past it. There will never be another person who gets to 100 first.”

Ashton is aware that he has not always been popular with opposition fans, a chequered disciplinary record and the relatively divisive Ash Splash, counting against him.

And yet as the end draws nigh, that antagonism has faded, replaced by respect at what he has achieved.

Sunday’s treble all but clinched a semi-final spot for Tigers, and could yet see Ashton bow out with a Twickenham goodbye.

The only team to have kept him out over a decade and a half are Saracens, a potential opponent in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby final. After everything else he has achieved, is there one more fairy tale in the Ashton story?

*Chris Ashton and Leicester Tigers are in blistering form as they look to defend their title at Twickenham on May 27. Tickets to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final 2023 are still available.