Wests Tigers’ Elijah Taylor credits gruelling Penrith Panthers pre-season as key for fitness improvement
If Elijah Taylor comes back to bite the Panthers’ finals aspirations with a crucial play at the death on Friday night, Penrith will only have themselves to blame.
Taylor will look around Pepper Stadium and think of sweltering summer days where, in black training kit no less, he slogged it out during pre-season.
All in the hope that when the season was on the line he would come up with a moment others couldn’t.
“It was torture,” Taylor smiled. "We just did time trials … so much running. It’s really showing why Penrith is such a fit team because of all the work we did in the pre-season.
“Physically it was very demanding, [but] I feel good having that done this pre-season.”
But probably not as good as Tigers coach Jason Taylor does about another team pouring a pre-season into his mid-year recruit – and then coming back to potentially haunt their finals aspirations.
As far as end-of-season games go they don’t come much bigger than the Panthers (seventh) and Tigers (10th) clash. Penrith can all but seal a top eight spot with a win. The Tigers can draw level with their western Sydney neighbours with an upset.
Taylor, unceremoniously shown the door by Penrith coach Anthony Griffin during the year, has already beaten his old club once as a Tiger.
Beat them again and the joint venture will fancy breaking their finals drought with games against the Warriors (away) and Raiders (home) to come.
“There’s probably no emotions as I’ve already played them, but it will be different warming up knowing that stadium so well during the pre-season,” Taylor said.
The 26-year-old former New Zealand international remains unsigned beyond this season having agreed to head to Concord on a short-term deal.
The prospect of being at a third club in the space of six months is an unappealing one – particularly given Taylor’s flourishing combination with returning halfback Luke Brooks and five-eighth Mitchell Moses.
“If I can it would be cool [to stay],” he said. "I’ve settled in really well with the boys here – it’s a good crew and a young crew – and there’s a good culture. I’m playing with some exciting players.
"I’m trying my best to stay here and get some stability. We’ve got heaps of young boys coming through and I just have to focus on playing some consistent and good footy.
"Some of the stuff [the halves] do at training … how do they do that? When you get up close and play with them you realise these players are elite players.
"These halves encourage me to get the ball, encourage me to hit them early, encourage me to hit them late. It gives me confidence because they’re always confident. They’ve really helped my game grow and my confidence grow."