We caught up with former North Queensland Toyota Cowboys forward Ashton Sims to talk about his early career, joining the Cowboys, playing overseas and life after football.
Sims, 36, made his NRL debut with the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2003, before playing with the Brisbane Broncos, North Queensland Cowboys, Warrington Wolves and Toronto Wolfpack.
The Gerringong Lions junior made 368 appearances between Australia, the UK and Canada, and represented Fiji on 12 occasions.
Q&A: Ashton Sims (Cowboy #211)
You grew up playing your junior footy with the Gerringong Lions. How old were you when you started playing?
I started playing for my local primary school, St Peter and Paul, in Kiama before moving to the Gerringong Lions in the under 8s. From then up until I was 16-years-old I was playing for the Lions before moving into the St George Illawarra junior squad.
You made your NRL debut for the Dragons as an 18-year-old. How did you find out you’d be making your debut?
I remember it vividly. There used to be an all-you-can-eat Sizzler across the road from Kogarah Oval. We were just sitting there eating and Nathan Brown came over and said "I wouldn't eat too much if I were you" and I asked why not. He said "Because you are playing first grade this weekend with me." He handed me his phone and told me to ring my mum and tell her to cancel whatever she has on Saturday because she'll be watching me make my debut at Penrith Stadium. It was a really emotional and surreal moment to be able to share with 30 of my good mates who were in the top squad. Even though I was 18-years-old, I had guys like John Cross, Chris Leikvoll, Jason Ryles, Trent Barrett and Shaun Timmins that took me under their wing. Even though I was the baby of the squad, they certainly looked after their own and I am forever grateful for that squad in 2003.
3) After five years with the Dragons and three years with the Broncos, you signed with the Cowboys ahead of the 2011 season. Why did you decide to sign with the club?
I am a person who believes in big changes. The move up north was probably one of the best, if not the best move I've ever made in my life. I've met so many great people in Townsville. I emersed myself in the community, not just in the rugby league community, but in the wider community with my kids around schools and being involved in little activities around Townsville. In my NRL career, it was probably four of the best years I ever had.
4) Looking back at your four seasons in North Queensland, what are your fondest memories?
My fondest memories off the field was seeing my kids grow up and develop up there. The lifestyle kids have up in North Queensland is second to none. One of my daughters was born in Townsville so that was a pretty fond memory. On the field, just running out to a packed Dairy Farmers Stadium was incredible. Thinking back to the 2014 Qualifying Final when we beat the Broncos, the place was absolutely rocking. You want to talk about respecting your badge and playing for your fans, it's easy to do that when your fans respect you like the North Queensland fans do.
5) At the end of 2014 you signed with the Warrington Wolves. What was the experience like living and playing in the UK?
Some of the best people I have met in this world are the English. I love a good Australian and English rivalry, but I can honestly say the English have some of the best sense of humour and the best people you will ever meet. Over in Warrington we just emersed ourselves in the culture and the community and we enjoyed the UK for what it was. I wanted to go over there and I wanted to win. I wanted to play hard and enjoy the full experiences.
6) You finished your playing career with two seasons with the Toronto Wolfpack? What was it like seeing the growth of rugby league in Canada during your time there?
It was truly amazing. Obviously, what has happened to the Wolfpack over the last 18 months has been disappointed and sad to see. For the majority of those two years we had 7-8k people on average for our home crowds. With our promotional game to get into the Super League we had nearly 12k people there. In the space of four years to be able to get a crowd of 12k people to come and watch a sport that is not traditional to North Americans is great. I really hope that in the future there is still going to be a place for the Toronto Wolfpack. The North American market is a huge one to break into and I feel like we did a good job getting one foot firmly in there.
7) What have you been doing with yourself since you retired at the end of 2019?
I have been very lucky and humbled to go into a job that gives me the same sense of passion and purpose that I had when I was playing footy. I'm now a mental health facilitator for a company called the Mental Health Movement where we travel all throughout Australia helping to create, develop and maintain mentally supportive workplaces, schools and sporting clubs. It's something I find a lot of purpose and identity in. I genuinley spring out of bed. I still love setting the alarm for 5am every morning.