Mates matter most: Ayshford
Cronulla centre Blake Ayshford says regardless of talent, any kid should consider having a go at rugby league just because of the lifelong friends you make along the way.
Looking back on his entry to the sport at the age of six with the Paddington Tigers, Ayshford said he was never a standout talent early on despite making the Junior Kangaroos in his late teens.
"I remember I was about six [when I started playing], the [Paddington] jersey was sort of like the Roosters colours. I played with them all the way until about 10, then played with the Coogee Wombats," Ayshford told NRL.com.
"Dad always used to play out at Waverly Oval. Him and my uncles used to play so I used to get up there and ball boy, I'd ball boy for them for the first six years, as long as I can remember, and just always wanted to get into it.
"I wasn't really [a standout player in juniors], I went all right when I was younger then the growth spurt happened and then I was in the forwards for a bit. I was lucky, I got a couple of breaks. After I finished up at the Roosters I got a couple of lucky breaks with the Tigers and found myself playing first grade for about six years now," he said.
He added if any kids are thinking about having a go at the game the only way to find out if they'll like it is to dive in and have a go – and if nothing else they'll make some new friends.
"There's only one way to find out [if you're cut out for it] and that's to play the game. It's a lot of fun. I've got mates that I've had since I was six still that I played footy with that I still talk to now. Just go and have a go. It's a good way to stay fit and there's not many other things to do on a Sunday!"
Ayshford added he'd have no qualms about enrolling his three-year-old son in junior rugby league in a couple of years, once he's old enough.
On his own form, Ayshford – who had a blockbusting weekend at the pre-season Auckland Nines after a disappointing 2014 campaign – said it was nice to put in some good performances ahead of what is a contract year.
"Yeah it's been a while but it felt good to score a couple of tries and get into the grand final, I've never played any sort of grand final at the top level so to make it was pretty exciting," he said.
Ayshford has started the year in NSW Cup with plenty of players vying for spots in the Cronulla backline and knows there is big competition for spots.
"This is my last year [of the current deal], so it's a contract year, there's plenty of incentive to have a good year here. I've got to try and crack first grade first. Hopefully I'm still around in the NRL next year.
"I'd like to still be in the NRL but if that's not the case I'd like to still be playing at some level somewhere... Staying [at Cronulla] would be my first choice but if that's not to be then hopefully I'm still playing footy. As long as I'm playing footy somewhere I'll be happy."
Round 3 of the Telstra Premiership is PlayNRL Round where the game will celebrate all that’s great about grassroots rugby league.
Rugby league is all about having fun, making friends and staying healthy. The NRL is using this round to help promote Junior Rugby League and thank you, our future stars and fans and heroes who help make it all possible.
Join the conversation at #PlayNRL, get your tickets at nrl.com/tickets and get to a game. Talk to your local junior club about signing up as a player or volunteer and join the thousands of people who make rugby league great.