Much like many of his teammates, given the success enjoyed by Leigh Leopards this year, John Asiata has fast become a fan favourite and now has his own chant to revel in with a Challenge Cup semi-final to come against St Helens tomorrow afternoon.
The Samoa and Tonga international linked up with the Leopards, then recognisable as Centurions, ahead of 2022. Helping to fire them to promotion in his first year, as well as an 1895 Cup triumph at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the captain has been at the forefront of a 2023 charge in Super League.
An ever-present for Adrian Lam’s men so far, Asiata has been a standout performer, described by his boss earlier this week as ‘one of the smartest players in the world’.
With a little over 24 hours to go until the clash with Saints, very few tickets remain for Leopards fans to snap up. The trip down the East Lancs to the Halliwell Jones Stadium will be made by thousands from the town, and their praise for Asiata will be just as vocal as that of Lam’s.
Just sold my car, to John Asiata!
Speaking to Love Rugby League on Monday, the day after Leigh’s ‘gutsy’ win at Salford Red Devils to keep them second on the Super League ladder, the versatile forward was in high spirits.
He said: “I don’t know about that song! It’s catchy, that’s for sure. It’s cool, I heard it yesterday a few times going off and sometimes it gets stuck in my head and just keeps going and going!
“It’s cool that you’ve got your own little chant, if it was up to me I’d probably change the chant a little bit, but it’s their chant and it’s what they do and they love it.
All you have to do is sing the advert: "Just sold my car, to John Asiata!!". Yes it's really catchy and if @webuyanycar read this and are interested in sponsoring an outstanding @SuperLeague team, please get in touch. With @LeighLeopardsRL @SonyUK @SonyUKTEC @BBCSport #Rugby pic.twitter.com/p02rpy1ok0
— Mike Inkley (@Mike_Inkley) July 8, 2023
“What we do as players is perform for them to do things like that, they go out and get a banner made with the lyrics on it, so I can’t change it now!
“It’s what differentiates here to the NRL, the crowd here gets more into it, they have songs for different players, they are loud throughout the whole game whereas in the NRL it is only when their team is on top, but here they just don’t stop.”
Asiata: Re-discovering a love for rugby league
His departure from the NRL came amidst a cloud, with players who didn’t get the COVID-19 vaccine not permitted to play over in Australia.
Reports this week have emerged that the Penrith-born workhorse may soon be returning to his homeland from 2024, with Leigh owner Derek Beaumont publicly denying them.
Before those reports came to light, the player himself again told Love Rugby League just how much he was loving being a Leyther.
Asiata said: “It [my passion] just keeps growing to be fair. I’m just loving my footy at the moment, being able to play the style of footy that I love to play and being given a role that I love to do which is getting my hands on the ball.
“My passion for the game has gone to another level and it just makes me want to play more and more. We’ve just got to see how the long the body wants to go for, but if it was up to me, I’d just keep going.
“Footy has been unreal, it can be better, obviously the group we have now is awesome and it is making me enjoy my footy a lot more. The group is outstanding, the way we do things not just on the field, the way we act off the field, we’ve got a really close bunch of boys that really care about each other and what we do.”
Leigh Leopards want to keep on exceeding expectations
When Leigh re-branded to be known as the Leopards ahead of the start of the 2023 season, ridicule was high amongst the rugby league world.
Not many would have believed then that as we approach the business end of the season, Lam’s men sit second in the table and are only one game away from a first appearance at Wembley since 1971.
Asiata opened up on the fact that he and his teammates know they’ve exceeded the expectations of many, but those held within the camp have always been high, and they’re not going to stop now.
He added: “It’s true about us exceeding expectations, but the expectations that we have for each other are a lot more than that. We believe we can do that [continue exceeding] as a group, it was always about blocking out the noise and blocking out the people that doubted us and expected us to go straight back down.
“As a group, we’ve built our year on belief and working hard, and it’s got us to the point where we are now. We’re just 80 minutes away from a final at Wembley, which would be cool, but there’s a big hurdle in front of us at the moment and I call them [Saints] the ‘big dogs’ because they’ve done it a lot of times. There’s no better way for us to try and do it than against them.”
Asiata’s longer-term future may well be unconfirmed just yet, but in just 24 hours time, he’ll look to book a Wembley appearance to add to a long list of accolades already accomplished during his extensive career.