As career milestones go, 150 NRL appearances is right up there, even more so for Blake Ayshford.
The tall centre reaches the mark on the same day as his 29th birthday when he lines up for the Vodafone Warriors against the Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium tomorrow (5.30pm kick-off local time; 7.30pm NZT).
There was a time two years ago when Ayshford was beginning to wonder just where his career was heading, which was at odds with his arrival on the NRL landscape in 2009.
As a rookie with Wests Tigers he was unquestionably one of the most promising players in the game but his stock began to tail off in his last season with the club in 2013. It was followed by a disappointing two-year stint with Cronulla which ended after he made just four NRL appearances in his second and last year there.
What he saw as arguably his final chance was an opportunity to move to Auckland with his family to take up a two-year contract with the Vodafone Warriors.
By the end of the 2016 campaign Ayshford was able to reflect on his best season since 2011. Looking for a chance to break back into the NRL, he’d established himself as a first-choice selection playing 22 games and scoring eight tries.
With his career tally sitting on 146 games, he had to start all over again under new Vodafone Warriors head coach Stephen Kearney for the 2017 season. Kearney plumped for Solomone Kata and David Fusitu’a as his starting centres resulting in Ayshford starting the season with the club’s Intrust Super Premiership side.
His opening to return to first-grade action would come in unlikely, indeed dramatic, circumstances against St George Illawarra in the fourth round.
The previous day Ayshford had played the full 80 minutes in the ISP side’s 21-14 win over Illawarra in Wollongong. He joined the NRL players in their hotel that evening, expecting to be 18th man for the match against the Dragons the following day.
Instead Kieran Foran, set to make his club debut, picked up a hamstring injury late in the warm-up and Kearney told Ayshford he was needed.
The centre put together a second 80-minute effort in little more than 24 hours, retaining his place for the following wins over Gold Coast and Parramatta.
BLAKE AYSHFORD | NRL CAREER
2009 | 15 games, 8 tries
2010 | 24 games, 8 tries
2011 | 26 games, 11 tries
2012 | 23 games, 4 tries
2013 | 16 games, 4 tries
2014 | 16 games, 2 tries
2015 | 4 games, 1 try
2016 | 22 games, 8 tries
2017 | 3 games, 0 tries