Asiata's first try for 'Cowboys family'
Unheralded Cowboy John Asiata won't get the same plaudits as some of his teammates after North Queensland advanced to the preliminary finals courtesy of a shock 24-16 win over Parramatta, but the utility forward proved one thing at ANZ Stadium; quality trumps quantity.
Having gone 75 NRL games without a try to his name, Asiata broke his duck in style as he chased through a kick, leapt high and then stripped the ball from Eels fullback Will Smith in the in-goal to score a drought-breaking try that gave the Cowboys a second-half lead that they never relinquished.
It wasn't the sort of try that front-rowers are meant to score, but after such a long wait, the humbly-spoken Asiata was just happy to have helped his team secure a win that keeps their season alive for a least another week.
"It's something that every player wants to do – to score a try for the team – but I've said to the boys a lot that I don't mind if I don't score because as long as we're winning, I'm happy with that," he told NRL.com after the game.
"To get one tonight – especially given the circumstance we were in and the importance of the game – it was awesome.
"I just go out there and do my best. If I score then I score; it's not something that I think about.
"I didn't actually think that I would score by chasing the kick and jumping over the fullback, but it was just an effort thing and it showed that I wanted to compete. Gavin Cooper was running behind me and he just said 'go Johnny, go' so that just pushed me an extra step."
What made his performance even more special was the fact he did it all with a broken hand; a fact not lost on teammate Justin O'Neill who told NRL.com the Cowboys lifted once Asiata touched down.
"I wouldn't say it's been a running joke, but the excitement he showed when he scored tonight refreshed everyone's memory that he hadn't scored. It's awesome to see boys reach milestones and score first tries and stuff like that," he said.
"The boys grew a leg once he scored, and it wasn't just because of the try; he played really gutsy tonight. To play with his hand, it's tough for a player to play a normal NRL game let alone a finals match. You see people lift at this stage of the year and he definitely did that tonight."
Asiata's heroics set up a mouth-watering clash next Saturday night against the Roosters; the club the 24-year-old made a name for himself at in the National Youth Competition.
The Samoan international played two seasons with the Tricolours and was named at lock in the 2013 Team of the Year, and while he wanted to stay in Sydney to remain close to his family, Asiata made the tough decision to pack his bags and move to Townsville instead.
While family was a motivating factor to remain in Sydney, Asiata couldn't say no to Paul Green who had coached him in the NYC and was set to take up the vacant first-grade role at the Cowboys in 2014.
"Greeny gave me the opportunity if I wanted to make the move and I wanted to stay in Sydney because I was really family oriented, but I didn't get that opportunity," he revealed.
"My mum and dad encouraged me to take that step and move and go on and try to do something with rugby league and it's been the best decision.
"It's always tough to leave your family, and moving away from home with no one there and not knowing what Townsville was like, it was always going to be tough for a 20-year-old.
"I have a great group of friends here that are pretty much my family now and I've got a great club that has supported me the whole way. It was the best decision."