LANGUISHING in reserve grade at the Panthers, Elijah Taylor’s confidence was so broken he started to wonder if his whole career was a fluke.
Yes, he’d played more than 100 first grade games. Sure, he’d represented his country in 10 Test matches.
But so utterly had his game been pulled apart and deconstructed by new Penrith coach Anthony Griffin, it’s no wonder the deep thinking lock started to go just a little bit insane.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘have I fluked it’ or ‘maybe I just got here because I was in a team of good players and they made me look better than I am’, or ‘maybe I just chanced this’,” Taylor reveals to foxsports.com.au.
“You start doubting your ability, you start to wonder if you’ve got it anymore.
“Maybe it’s too fast for me — honestly these doubts start creeping into your head even though I was used to playing 80 minutes week-in, week-out.”
So it had been under the coaching of Ivan Cleary, who put enormous trust in the ability of his skilful forward.
For two years, whenever Cleary picked a side Taylor was one of the first on the teamsheet.
His sudden and unexpected sacking whipped a wind of change through the Panthers locker room, with a number of senior players quickly finding themselves on the outer under the new regime of the man they call ‘Hook’.
Taylor was one of them, with Griffin asking him to strip out the subtlety in his game and become a one-man tackling machine — no more fancy stuff.
It was a ‘who am I’ sort of moment for Taylor, who nonetheless attempted to fall in line and change his game.
“That’s what everybody (at Penrith) thought was all I was capable of doing, tackling and doing hit ups — that’s all Anthony Griffin wanted me to do,” Taylor said.
“So I was working on that as hard as I could and trying to do that as well as I could but I was still playing reserve grade.”
It was then that Taylor started thinking about a serious career change.
Right up until he was 18, Taylor had been a rugby union player and he started to talk to his management about going back to his first love.
Negotiations got serious and he was all set to farewell the NRL and sign a deal that would have taken him to the 15-a-side game, starting this year.
It was at the final hour that Wests Tigers got involved, with coach Jason Taylor starting the slow process to rebuild the confidence that had deserted his recruitment target.
“Just the coach saying I’m going to put you straight into first grade and you’re going to play 80 minutes,” Taylor (the player) says when asked what convinced him to grab his NRL lifeline.
“Just him saying that, I was like ‘well, sweet, I’ll do that’. Sometimes it’s all a player needs, is the confidence of their coach to say something like that, and my confidence came back.”
The Tigers mentor saw more than just a robotic hit up and tackle machine in the Kiwi international.
No, if he was going to make the move to Concord it was going to be with the understanding that his role was to ballplay in the middle and at times take the pill off precocious young halves Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses.
Not an easy thing for a coach to ask. Even more difficult for the new guy to deliver without causing ructions within the playing group.
“I love ball playing, it’s cool. That’s one of the first things JT talked about when I first met him over coffee,” Taylor reveals.
“Most halves want to be at first receiver and have the plays run through them but Moses and Brooks said ‘no, no, I’ll play off the back of you’.
“It’s a massive help because it would have been hard playing in a team where the halves wanted to be the ballplayers all the time.
“Credit to Mitchell and Luke for giving me the opportunity.”
So far it’s worked out. A penny for Griffin’s thoughts if Taylor lays on the winning try when the two sides clash this Sunday.