Asiata’s ‘secret’ skills honed in Cup
The social media world and Fox Sports commentary team were left in shock after Cowboys forward John Asiata demonstrated the attacking skill in the halves that even had some fans joking, "Johnathan who?".
Not since the likes of Feleti Mateo and David Taylor have we seen so much hype surrounding a forward and his ball playing ability.
The 104 kilo prop-forward slotted into the halves alongside Australian international Michael Morgan with the pair finding some groove late in the game to almost pull off a stunning comeback against the Dragons at WIN Stadium on Saturday night.
I've played a few games in the halves when I used to drop down at Mackay and whenever I go back to that level I ... have a bit of a free reign to roam around and play what I see.
Only those who grew up alongside him would know the 23-year-old was a dominant half in his junior days alongside other NRL of the likes of Junior Paulo, Jacob Gagan and Vai Toutai in the Parramatta Eels Harold Matthews line-up back in 2009.
"I never thought I would have to play half in first grade but with the opportunity presented it was just important that I did my job," Asiata told NRL.com.
"[The last time] would have probably been back in the Matts competition or junior footy for Wentworthville in the Parra district, because even at SG Ball [under 18s] I didn't play in the halves [for the Roosters], I was about 118 kilograms so pretty heavy back then."
Cowboys coach Paul Green approached Asiata about the opportunity to leave Sydney's west for tropical North Queensland and chase a rugby league dream after coaching the back-rower for a season in the Roosters' Holden Cup side back in 2013.
It was a risky move at first for the Samoan international, who left his family behind and spent his first season playing in the Queensland Cup before becoming a mainstay in Green's line-up from 2015 onwards – including being a part of the premiership-winning team the beat Brisbane in one of the best grand finals two years ago.
The early games in Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup turned out to prove valuable for Asiata's preparation leading into the clash with the Dragons last Saturday night.
"I've played a few games in the halves when I used to drop back down at Mackay and whenever I go back to that level I usually pump out 80 minutes and have a bit of a free reign to roam around and play what I see which probably helped," he said.
"The biggest part of the game for me was to talk more and make sure I was good at that so it certainly took me back to earlier days."
As for the advice the bench utility received off arguably the world's greatest player, Asiata said Thurston kept it simple during the week.
"He just said to play my own game and not overdo it and have a few ideas up my sleeve and stick to that," he said.
"The main thing I took from him was to not overthink things because that’s when it can all go wrong.
"I didn't go out there to be like JT (Thurston) but just made sure I organised the boys well and set things up.
"I was nervous, but probably in a good way, I knew it was coming and was told early in the week so it made it easier to get my head around it and work out what I had to do.
"It was a challenge I was willing to accept and I thought I attacked and handled it pretty well."
Green was happy with the performance of the Wentworthville junior considering it was his first stint in the halves in the Telstra Premiership.
"Playing in the halves at NRL level when you've played lock for most of your career is a big ask but I was pleased with his effort and the job he did for us tonight," Green said of Asiata.
"Once we worked out what game we could play to be effective and thought John would be able to execute that well given the skillset he's got."
Green was coy on whether he would stick with Asiata in the halves for the clash with the Knights on Saturday night with Ben Hampton another option to partner Morgan with Thurston unlikely to be rushed back into the line-up for Round 8 fixture.