Steep learning curve for Ayshford
For Blake Ayshford it was simply another part of the steep learning curve as he gets used to the cauldron of first grade football.
And one that is a long, long way removed from the days where he would challenge Rooster Anthony Cherrington to fierce battles of one-on-one basketball.
Even further from the agonising months he spent recovering from painful surgery to repair his injured right wrist after he “popped it” in one of his very first sessions with the Wests Tigers.
“We were training and Kingi Akoula (now with the Titans) got me and lifted me up as I dummied, and I just put my wrist down (to stop the fall) and it popped,” Ayshford recalls.
“It was killing me but I didn’t want to pull out because we were doing fitness and it was one of my first sessions, but I went and saw doc afterwards and it was bad news.
“I had bone from my right hip put into my left wrist. It was not comfortable.”
But it is all worth it now, because the former Junior Kangaroo’s education has seen him mark up directly against some of the game’s biggest names in an intimidating seven-match apprenticeship thus far in 2009.
“It’s still a thrill every time I come up against someone like [Darren] Lockyer or Stacey [Jones]... I mean, I’m happy with how I’ve gone so far, but it’s not 50 games… you know what I mean?” says the versatile 21-year-old.
“It’s still only seven games next to my name. Like Sheensy says, you’re not a first-grader until you’ve hit that 50-game mark.
“When I played five-eighth against the Storm I was a bit nervous because I didn’t want to boss any of the boys around.
“It started to come easier in the second half against Melbourne when Benji made me talk... I should thank him because he really helped me that game.
“It wasn’t that he stopped talking, but he slowed his talking down and didn’t call every play like he was in the Warriors game. He was asking me to play with the ball and talk a bit more, so it was good for that game, yeah.
“Benj was a big help… he was telling me plays that we could run on and I think it showed, because I enjoyed the second half a lot more.
“It’s a different game when you’re playing five-eighth, because you have to get in there and tell the boys where to go, but the forwards were good – they just asked me what was going on.”
The week before this season-defining match, Ayshford admits he got “stood up” by the magic feet of Eels duo Krisnan Inu and Jarryd Hayne.
After that match, Wests Tigers assistant coach Peter Gentle took the youngster aside and showed him a drill which improves footwork and limits the potential to be wrong-footed.
So now after every training session, Ayshford grabs Beau Ryan or Rhys Hanbury and gets them to run through the drill with him until they are sick of hearing him ask for “one more run”.
But the zippy Ayshford shouldn’t get too comfy in the backs – he’s been ear-marked for a move to the forwards as soon as he fills out his 190cm frame.
“He has good size… he’s a big rangy fella, so he’s quite tall and he can play a number of positions,” says Tim Sheens.
“Depending on how he fills out we can see him possibly ending up in the back row or back at lock, where he has played in the past.
“He’s done a particularly commendable job this year because he’s played most of the season out of position. We saw some of what he is capable of, and his ability to play a utility role, against Melbourne where he had quite a good game.”
All while the learning experience continues.