Rugby in the Illawarra is having its issues at the moment with lack of players across the board.
But there is no question about the quality on show, with some very talented players running around in season 2023.
Paul Asquith is without doubt one of the most decorated players running around the Illawarra District Rugby Union competition.
Asquith rejoined his boyhood club Kiama Cows this year after playing rugby at the highest levels in Australia and overseas for almost a decade.
The 29-year-old, who is currently nursing a broken hand, spoke to the Mercury about his rugby adventure, which has seen him travel the world as a member of the Australian Sevens squad from 2012-14, as well as during his four years playing for Welsh powerhouse Scarlets.
Asquith also touched on how missing family and friends, and how playing overseas put strains on his relationship to then girlfriend Georgia, made him realise coming back home to Kiama was the right move.
Last October Asquith and Georgia got married and last week the happy couple welcomed their first child, baby boy Arlo into the world.
For Asquith, becoming a father for the first time reiterated the importance of being close to family and loving what you do in life.
"When I came back in 2021 I wasn't sure what I wanted to do," he said.
"It was just coming off the two years of COVID over there [Wales] where I hadn't seen my family or my misses for about a year and I just wanted to come home really bad.
"So I came home, I didn't have any ambition with rugby or league and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I just wanted to come home and see them.
"But after about three or four months of contemplating whether to try and pursue another Super Rugby contract or maybe give league a crack, I decided my professional sports days were over, I just wanted to play for fun.
"I just wanted to play with my brothers, which I hadn't had the opportunity to do so beforehand. So I played for Jamberoo [in the Group Seven rugby league competition] last year with my three brothers and that was heaps good.
"This year I decided to play rugby with my junior club. So me and James, my eldest brother, we came over to Kiama rugby. We almost got the other two but they're really enjoying their league with Jamberoo and got some really good mates there. They didn't come along with us this year but I reckon they will next year."
It's no surprise Asquith played a season of league, with the talented sportsman chosen for the St George Illawarra Dragons SG Ball Cup side in 2010 before moving to rugby sevens in 2012.
Asquith played 43 games for Australia during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
"I managed to do nine or 10 trips with the World Series overseas, which was heaps sick, that was a real cool experience. It was just the training was so hard and you only play once every four weeks," he said.
"So it was like doing a preseason every month, just getting flogged and then if you get picked, you get to play, if you don't get picked, then you do another preseason. There just wasn't enough playing, but it was an unbelievable experience."
Asquith also had a great time living and playing in Melbourne with the Rebels.
The centre, who is nowadays more of an accomplished fly-half managed only three games for the Super Rugby team in 2016.
"But I still had a really cool experience. The lifestyle in Melbourne was great and I got the opportunity to play with some really talented players," Asquith said.
"There were so many competing sports down there and rugby wasn't a big deal, which was cool though, you could go out and have few drinks with the boys and no one cared."
The following year Asquith was on the move again, this time jetting all the way to Wales to play for the powerful Scarlets.
He stayed in Wales for four years, playing 94 games for the Scarlets during that time.
"It was unreal. It really was a really enjoyable experience. It was so different. You can't compare it to the rugby here just because there's no other real competing sports over there, it's just rugby and they love it.
"There was also so much hype around the Scarlets, who had some great players.
It really was a really enjoyable experience. It was so different. You can't compare it to the rugby here just because there's no other real competing sports over there, it's just rugby and they love it.- Paul Asquith
"Also, the Welsh are really passionate people and they're fun and I just really enjoyed the people over there. The cold weather wasn't as good though, that was tough."
Then after four years Asquith decided to return home. Life nowadays he says is way less stressful.
"At the start of the first couple of years I think I was really excited and wanting to do things all the time, wanting to play footy, really passionate about training and everything involved in footy," Asquith said.
"When I left school all I wanted to do was just play and push myself as much as I could. And then incrementally, things just got more and more hectic.
"I went from playing sevens to the Greater Sydney Rams in the NIC [National Rugby Championships] and then down in Melbourne and it all happened pretty quick and all of a sudden, you know, I got an offer to go overseas.
"I was really enjoying my footy all the way through my career and it wasn't till the very end when I realised I'd just been hopping to places and travelling places. That was really hard on Georgia's and my relationship.
I was really enjoying my footy all the way through my career and it wasn't till the very end when I realised I'd just been hopping to places and travelling places. That was really hard on Georgia's and my relationship.- Paul Asquith
"We've been together for about eight years. She came down and visited me while I was in Melbourne. She followed me to Wales for the first year and a bit.
"Georgia is a kindergarten teacher and she found it really hard not being able to do a job she loves. So she ended coming back and then visiting when she could.
"The whole time I really enjoyed the footy, it was more of the off-field stuff that I really struggled with, because it is such a weird experience travelling places, you get new mates going to new teams and then you leave them, make new mates, then you have your mates at home.
"I thought this was all normal but now that I have come back home and settled down and seen all my mates here have had their own experiences that I've missed out on, I realise I was living a different life to many.
"My career was exciting, tough at times off the field, but I was just hungry, I was eager to play footy and push myself as hard as I could, and then it got to that stage where it calmed down a bit, and I chose to be with my family and friends, where I could enjoy life and footy.
"Now life is more relaxed, almost more enjoyable, less stressful and content."
Now life is more relaxed, almost more enjoyable, less stressful and content.- Paul Asquith
This new chapter includes a renewed love of rugby, which Asquith puts down to playing with his mates at Kiama.
"Individually we have some absolute guns. Its just how do we exploit that on the field when everyone wants to do something, which is not a bad problem to have.
"Off the field we've been really pushing to build up the culture around the rugby club, to get everyone to the home games and enjoy themselves after the game and get around the boys."
Read more: Avondale too slick for outgunned Kiama Cows
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