Broken Asiata not giving in
Cowboys utility forward John Asiata will head into Sunday's NRL Telstra Premiership grand final for the third consecutive week playing with a badly broken hand.
The versatile prop spent most of his time in the casualty ward after Saturday night's clash with the Roosters to treat the injury sustained a fortnight ago against Cronulla – a commitment that typifies the courage within the camp in North Queensland.
With Cowboys co-captain Matt Scott lurking in the shadows for a NRL grand final call-up, the severity of Asiata's injury would usually keep the Wentworthville junior on the sidelines but the prop understandably isn't keen to sit the decider out.
Like several teammates throughout the year, the 24-year-old has brushed aside any thought of surgery to play an impact role off the bench in the Cowboys' three wins during finals series, and was working overtime on recovery following the preliminary final win.
"It's a clean break in the middle of my hand – displaced a bit and my knuckle is pulled back," Asiata told NRL.com.
"My middle finger has shortened too. I've got a soft and hard padding so the bone doesn't come out.
"It's sore, we do whatever we can and strap heavy, which is working."
The former Roosters and Eels lower grader admitted the level of discomfort was not ideal heading into a NRL Telstra Premiership decider, but said it wasn't a liability the Storm side could target.
"It's probably more trying to grip the ball, with the squeeze not as strong as normal," he said.
"I don't have much strength but that won't stop me, it's got one more game left in it."
Asiata said he was thrilled with North Queensland's ability to reach the decider against the odds.
"It feels crazy because of where we come from, the amount of people that said we couldn't do it and were just filling numbers," Asiata said.
"I've always had the belief in the squad to do some damage this finals series.
"The faith, attitude and respect for each other shows on the field.
"The attitude of the boys turning up to training, we all just said to each other that we would dig in and enjoy playing our footy and not make excuses.
"We play our hearts out for each other and make sure we don't let anyone down."
Asiata shocked the rugby league world earlier back in April when coach Paul Green slotted him into the halves alongside Michael Morgan for three games.
That positional switch feels like an eternity ago now for the prop, who moved back into the forwards following the mid-season arrival at the club of five-eighth Te Maire Martin and following a season-ending injury to forward Patrick Kaufusi.
"Playing in the halves feels like five years ago and looking back, I loved every moment and it helped my game," Asiata said.
"Losing some of our stars has forced us all to do a little bit more. Losing Johnno (Johnathan Thurston) and Matt Scott plays on your mind to do more work as a team but overall my game hasn't changed too much, more just help the halves or Jason (Taumalolo) out best I can."
With each victory in the past three weeks, the crowd at Townsville airport welcoming the players home has increased significantly – hitting a new peak on Sunday following the team's preliminary final victory.
"We knew it would be a full house going back but we embrace every moment," Asiata said of the support.
"Travelling the last three weeks I think has been the best thing. Our relationships in the squad have got stronger and coming away with wins is only moving us closer – especially with the younger boys in their first finals series.
"And then to return home to a huge crowd supporting us is amazing and win or lose they're still there. A handful were there when we departed for the Sharks game and it's just grown since.
"To win [the grand final] is going to be even more special. Flying back into Townsville in 2015 was wild."
Belief is sky high in the North Queensland camp, from coach Green down to the side's youngest squad member in back-rower Coen Hess.
They'll head into Sunday's big dance as rank outsiders, which has been just the way they've liked it in 2017.
"We want this for the community, our members and the coaching staff – they put in all the hard work to get the week ready for us," Asiata said.
"I believe we've got a game that can trouble the Storm if we bring our best. They're a team that stay in the fight for the whole 80 minutes.
"We've done that in the last three games so as long as we stick to that with a bit more intensity to it, there's no reason why we can't beat them."