David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Blake Ayshford a little older, a whole lot wiser

Ayshford keeps his head up, earns a recall.
Blake Ayshford handled a recent demotion with maturity. He's starting tonight. Picture / Photosport.nz
Blake Ayshford handled a recent demotion with maturity. He's starting tonight. Picture / Photosport.nz

The Blake Ayshford of old might have spat the dummy after he was dropped to the Warriors bench recently, but experience and an improved attitude helped him fight his way back for tonight's crucial NRL clash against the Cowboys.

Ayshford found himself on the pine over the last three weeks following the Warriors' round 20 loss to Canberra, when coach Andrew McFadden switched David Fusitu'a to right centre to accommodate the inclusion of Tui Lolohea at fullback.

After starting in the centres for the first 18 games of the season, Ayshford could have been forgiven for feeling hard done by, but in a mark of his maturity, the 28-year-old believes he deserved to be axed.

"I was disappointed but it wasn't hard to accept," said Ayshford.

"Tui needed to get on the field. He was playing good footy. You couldn't really move Fus [Fusitu'a] from the starting side or [left centre] Solomone [Kata], so it was just logical that I was the one moved.

"I was playing the worst footy out of the backs. I obviously had to fix that and bide my time on the bench and now I'm back."

Past experience taught Ayshford that dropping his bottom lip would not help him reclaim the No3 jersey.

Ayshford recalls two previous times he was cut. The first came early on in his career at Wests Tigers. That experience didn't cut him too deeply as he felt he still had plenty of years ahead of him.

But it was a different story when he was culled during his first season at Cronulla in 2014.

"It was at the Sharks that it hit me," he said. "The last time I was dropped, I didn't handle it too well and did some things I shouldn't have done. I was in a new environment and I just found alcohol and didn't handle it right. It took me a couple of months to realise that sulking about things wasn't going to get me anywhere. That's what I took into this latest situation."

Two seasons on, Ayshford credits a more stable home life and strong support within the Warriors organisation for helping him stay focused and remain positive.

By continuing to train hard and making it known he was prepared to play anywhere, he managed to get game time off the bench playing in the middle, on the edge and out wide.

"I'm just in a happier place," he said. "The environment that I'm in here at the club, I've got my kids and partner, and we're more grown up now. And just the support I've got around here has helped me a lot.

"It helped me get a bench spot by trying to improve myself and trying to play any position I could."

Lolohea's forgettable display against South Sydney last week opened the door for a reprieve.

McFadden was impressed by Ayshford's continued commitment and had no hesitation in recalling him for a tough assignment against the reigning premiers.

"I saw a very selfless person," said McFadden. "I had faith in him because he's experienced and he has got some versatility in his game but he's been terrific. He's a good team man. He's a really good footballer and I know that the players around him love playing with him."

- NZ Herald

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