Exclusive: John Asiata breaks silence on St Helens tackle storm but makes big vow ahead of RFL verdict

Aaron Bower
John Asiata, Leigh Leopards

Leigh Leopards star John Asiata has broken his silence on the row surrounding his tackle technique: stressing he has no intention to deliberately hurt any of his opponents before revealing how the subsequent abuse he has endured on social media has impacted both him and his family.

Asiata’s tackling has been the major talking point in the sport over the last ten days, after he was involved in a number of challenges during Leigh’s Challenge Cup victory against St Helens that ended the seasons of both Agnatius Paasi and Alex Walmsley.

It led to the Saints coach, Paul Wellens, labelling Asaita’s style as ‘out of control’ and insisting that the Rugby Football League were failing to protect players by allowing his tackle technique to remain in the game.

However, while the RFL admitted they would review the technique at the end of the season, they did not charge Asiata with foul play. That has not prevented a major debate about whether or not Asiata’s tackling was dangerous: but now, in an exclusive interview with Love Rugby League, Asiata has had his say.

He has vigorously defended his technique but also stressed there is no malice to hurt players, admitting: “It’s been a really difficult few days.

“That’s how I’ve tackled since I was eight or nine years old, it’s not a new thing. But I don’t go out there to injure people. It’s just the way I am in terms of how I compete and what I do for my team.

“But it’s been emotional. It’s been tough for my family, that’s the main thing. I can handle abuse and the things that come with social media, but even I’ve stayed away from it over the past week or so.

“It’s more my family, they see what’s going on and I’m worried for them. But I believe in God and I give my worries to him and he helps me through it. I trust in God that everything happens for a reason, it’s not to put me down but make me stronger.”


John Asiata reaches out to Agnatius Paasi following season-ending tackle

Asiata said he has personally reached out to Paasi following the challenge which saw him ruled out for up to nine months, before admitting he has found the intensity of the debate and the subsequent abuse which has come his way difficult.

He said: “A lot of the stuff on social media has been directed straight at me and I have seen a lot of it. But if I was to look at it non-stop it would really impact me, so it’s about getting rid of it and trying to focus on my family and what they think about me. But they’ve probably seen stuff and I’ve not seen it, so that’s really difficult to think about. I don’t want my family involved in this.”

When asked about his tackle style, Asiata replied: “It’s a game of rugby league, I put my body on the line for my team. Sometimes it can turn out worse for me, but I’ve reached out to Agnatius about the situation and apologised personally.

“I haven’t reached out to the other guys but I can promise you that I feel terrible for what’s happened. I don’t want to see any player get injured, we’re all competitors. But I’m putting my body on the line for my team and that’s what I do as a leader. But by no means do I look at a guy and think, ‘yeah, I’m going out to injure him’. I just compete as hard as I can.”

The tackle technique could become outlawed in 2024 if the RFL opt to make a change but for now, Asiata suggested he will not change that facet of his game which it remains legal.

“It’s a massive talking point right now, it’s taken me by surprise but all I can do is just keep my head down,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re going to outlaw the technique, I haven’t been told anything. I’m just going to keep doing whatever it takes for my team and if it changes, I’ll adapt.”

Asiata’s name was chanted several times by the travelling Leigh support at Wigan on Saturday, and he admitted he was grateful for the support of all associated with the Leopards.

“The fans have been so supportive,” he admitted. To hear my name being cheered after all the talk during the week was very special; I and my team-mates will keep giving our all for the club. It’s been an unreal year and being able to achieve what we have so far, it’s been very special.”

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