Powerhouse North Queensland forward Ashton Sims has come a long way – both literally and metaphorically – since making his first grade debut for St George Illawarra against the Panthers at Penrith in May, 2003.
The 28-year-old Gerringong Lions junior, preparing to line up in his 200th NRL match, against the Rabbitohs at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight, can’t believe he’s made it this far.
“Two hundred games, it’s pretty surreal really,” the eldest Sims brother playing in the NRL tells NRL.com.
“I remember when I started out I was just a young surfer punk from Gerringong and I didn’t know how long my career would last but I just put in the hard work and it’s paid off with a couple of cool milestones along the way but this is definitely the biggest one. It’s pretty awesome thinking about it.
“I remember [my debut] really well and being pretty nervous. I was at one of my mates Travis’ house the night before and we were just talking and talking and it just didn’t seem like I was ready to play my first NRL game. Looking back on that now – I had Gerringong Pizza the night before the game… and chilling back with my mates ’til about 11.30 or 12 o’clock and went back home, slept, woke up and got ready for the game – there’s no way I’d prepare for a game like that ever again!”
Now in his 11th season of first grade, Sims credits good fortune – and some positive influences – to an illustrious career that has taken him from the Dragons to Brisbane and now to Townsville.
“There’s been a heap – luck’s played probably the biggest part along the whole way,” Sims, elder brother of teammate Tariq and Knight Korbin, reveals.
“I was really lucky when I started my career – John Cross and Chris Leikvoll took me under their wing early, they were really old heads at St George… then I had good mates like Ben Creagh, Matty Head and then went to the Broncos and sort of teamed up with Joel Clinton who was an old head there too and worked off him and Peter Wallace, then I came up to the Cowboys.
“I’ve got to give a big thanks to Neil Henry and Peter Parr – the last year at the Broncs (2010) was a pretty up-and-down year for me and they gave me another chance up here and it’s been great. This season’s been pretty rough but the two seasons before have been really good. I’ve got a lot of people to thank along the way but definitely my wife and kids, and my mum and dad. I could never have done it or gone anywhere without them. It’s pretty cool to reflect and look back on all that.”
Now firmly established in Far North Queensland with wife Nicole, the couple’s three kids and brother Tariq, who’s based just 10 minutes down the road, Sims is starting to think about life after football – though a move back ‘home’ near where he grew up on his parents’ farm near Wollongong seems unlikely.
“When we went to Brisbane it was a bit hairy because we hadn’t really been to Sydney all that often,” Sims, about as country as league players come, says.
“Going to another big city in Brisbane [was challenging], but we made friends straight away which was great, then coming further up to North Queensland, [Nicole] loves Townsville probably the most out of anywhere... the weather’s beautiful all year long.
“I’ve always wanted to be a fireman… I met with the airport fire brigade here in Townsville and they gave us some really good feedback… it’s something I’ve really got to start thinking about soon because I’m 28 now and a footy career doesn’t last forever. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do.”
For the moment, though, Sims’ focus is entirely on football. He insists the Cowboys’ season is still alive… and he can’t wait to represent his mother’s place of birth, Fiji, at another World Cup at the end of the season after playing four matches for the island nation in the 2008 tournament.
“We’ve had a lot of tight losses and we definitely haven’t done as well as we’ve wanted this year but we’re going to look to finish the year off strong – there’s still a mathematical chance we can make the semis so we’re just holding on to that hope and come out this week against Souths and put in a good performance for us and our fans,” Sims, a consistent performer across 13 games for the Cowboys this season, says.
“The Rabbitohs have big forwards that go forward well and their backs, even without Inglis, just chip in and play well together. We’re definitely going to have our hands full but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to… The season’s not dead yet. If we get the maximum points, 12 points, we’re still in with a chance.
“Barring injury we’ve got the World Cup coming up at the end of the year for Fiji and all the brothers (Tariq and Korbin) are going to play this year, touch wood. I’ve been in touch with Rick Stone, the coach, and he’s been really good about it all. We’ve got that at the end of this year then I’m off contract next year and hopefully get another gig, a year or two, and that’ll take me to about 30 or 31 and I’ll evaluate from there I suppose.”
Even after 11 years at the top – and a journey that’s taken him all the way from Gerringong to Far North Queensland – there’s plenty more ground to cover.