Asiata overcomes selection challenges
If simply being a good bloke got a player selected, Cowboys interchange forward John Asiata would undoubtedly feature in the NRL All Stars team each February.
But the reality of potentially not even making it back into the North Queensland 17 was something Asiata faced before last week's late call-up against the Broncos.
The lightning-fast emergence of future star Coen Hess, the gradual development of Patrick Kaufusi and next year's return of towering prop Sam Hoare had Asiata admitting his long-term place in the weekly top-grade side was a tenuous one.
"That's something I realised but it was not about being scared, more about the [individual] challenges that I have," he told NRL.com.
"Nothing is cemented in the squad and anything can change at any time, it had already happened to me this year.
"The people outside of footy have kept me level-headed and really positive, which finds me back in the squad at the moment.
"Mum and dad, my future father-in-law have been great support for me. Mum and dad are living in Sydney and they come over every now and then. They're really religious and really believe god's got a plan and I believe the same thing.
"This is a game where things won't always go your way and when things don't go your way you've just got to be that positive person and try to keep your head up."
The silky-skilled utility forward was dropped back to the Intrust Super Cup after the Cowboys' Round 23 loss to the Roosters as coach Paul Green called for more grunt in a forward pack struggling to win the territory battle.
Asiata remained back in the lower grades until the ISC season finished on August 28, with Green citing match fitness as the reason for keeping him there.
All hope of a finals appearance looked lost when Asiata suffered quad strain on the eve of playoffs, which would have made him the only 2015 premiership player to miss out on a chance at going back-to-back.
It could have been the start of a long summer.
"I hadn't played in two-and-a-half, close to three weeks, and I had a strained quad at the time," he told NRL.com.
"I didn't really do much training besides prepping with the boys, and it was just good that I decided to cut the food that I was eating to get me ready if I got the call-up."
His late inclusion came when news broke of Ethan Lowe's season-ending neck injury, with Asiata jumping Patrick Kaufusi on the depth chart and putting in an impressive semi-final performance against Brisbane.
He packed eight runs for 71 metres and 11 tackles into 21 minutes of playing time, including a monster hit-up off the kick-off following Johnathan Thurston's 79th minute penalty goal.
It was the strongest hit-up of Asiata's career and even had commentators mistaking him for Jason Taumalolo.
"I wasn't always the type to run hard and just do a normal hit-up," he said.
"I played more that floating [style] when I younger and to come up here and still be able to use that skill.
"But I feel my running game is improving, it's starting to get there. I'm slowly growing as a player and getting more confident.
"It was hard to sit on the sideline and watch the boys play. To get my opportunity again, I just wanted to make sure that when that time came I was ready to go."
Asiata knows he will have a weekly fight on his hands to stay in the Cowboys team next season (a contract season), and has used the experience of being dropped to the lower grades as fuel to come back a more motivated player.
"You either show up or you don't show up," he said.
"Those who are hungry and are willing to do that extra work to go that extra mile are the ones who achieve more things in life. In rugby league there's no easy way out."
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