Titans halfback Ash Taylor is eager to return to the NRL after leaving the league last season former mental health reasons.
Taylor’s name had been inked to the ‘million-dollar player’ label after extending his contract with Gold Coast reportedly worth over $1 million per season, but struggled to live up to expectations.
Now with the 2020 season in sights, Taylor is keen to return to the field and reignite the form that saw him take out the 2016 Dally M Rookie of the Year award.
Taylor opened up on his return and that million-dollar tag in an interview with Fox Sports.
“There’s always that price tag that gets thrown around. The million-dollar player, it’s been reported about a lot but it’s not true. There’s a lot of statements that have been put out there, like I’m on a million dollars a season, but that’s not true,” Taylor said.
“It’s kind of hard to play up to that expectation and it’s always hard when people think you’re on that kind of money. But I’ve lived it. I don’t know how those blokes actually do it like Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston trying to live up to that price tag.
“It’s a hefty price tag to live up to and I’m just sort of trying to get my footy back on track now. It’s a team sport and I want to be a part of a great team.”
Taylor struggled to deal with the pressure loaded on by his critics, with his six month hiatus coming to an end late last season where he made one appearance in the NRL before the season came to a close.
While the 2019 season wasn’t one to favour Taylor, he said last year revealed the support he didn’t know he had around him.
“It was a rollercoaster.
“The plan was to play some good footy and get the Titans back up to finals contention but some personal stuff happened to me and that took me on a rollercoaster ride.
“Life’s not about always staying up – there’s always going to be downs. I had a lot of challenges last year but was lucky enough to have some great support. I’m still going through the process today, trying to get back on the paddock and trying to get my footy back to where it was a few years ago.”
A growing factor that has caused damage to the mental health of a number of professional athletes is social media, with Taylor looking to avoid any online criticism where possible.
“I used to read a lot on social media but now I just read it and move on. If something comes up I’ll have a quick look, but I’m not really a big fan of it.”
After bursting onto the scene with the Titans and signing a new monster deal, the world was at his feet, yet after failing to live up to expectations – criticism soon took over, leaving Taylor to seek help.
The last 18 months have given the halfback a new outlook on his career and some advice for fellow rising stars.
“After I signed that big contract there was a lot out there and I’m only 24 now – I’m still learning about life and I’ve still got a lot to go.
“Being young and being in the game any advice I’d give to kids coming through is to not let it get to you, not let it affect your game and not let it affect your personal life. It was affecting me, my footy was affected and so was my personal life. I was going down the wrong track.
“I’d advise kids to just click on it and move on but if you do need help then just find it as soon as possible, not let it dwell. I probably let it dwell on my mind too long and by the time I tried to get help it was too late – it was already taking my footy down the wrong path.
“To be good at the game and to be good at blocking that stuff out you’ve just got to see someone and obviously get the help that you need.”
The 24-year-old found support from professionals and family that set him in a new, positive direction.
“At the start I was seeing a specialist and they were pointing me in the right direction but now it’s just my family.
“I have a lot of close uncles that I talk to ever since I took that time out of rugby league. Obviously my partner and my mum and dad as well and I have a lot of support bases that know I may need some help at some stage so it’s good to know that they’re always going to be there.
“It went out around the world that I was struggling but now I don’t need to do that, I don’t need to take time out of footy, I don’t need to leave my home to get support so it’s just good if I need a bit of help I can make a phone call or visit a relative that’s going to bring me back up.”
Taylor also commended his ability to push through a tough period in his career and come out of it a stronger individual.
“I do (feel proud). One thing that I wanted to try and bring back with me was the honesty with myself. You’ve got to be honest with yourself no matter the outcome.
“Whatever happened has happened, I’ve moved on from it now and I just want to get back playing footy again and enjoying myself again.
“That’s the biggest thing, win, lose or draw I’m just going to enjoy my footy and enjoy living my life.”
Taylor returned to rugby through Queensland Cup side Tweed Heads, where he thrived in an environment without TV Cameras and attention.
“I think I got more out of it as a person. Not everything in life revolves around rugby league and I think that’s the biggest thing I took out of it.
“There’s a lot more to life than rugby league and I’ve found that now since I’ve been getting help because that was my life, rugby league was my life and everything revolved around it.”
Taylor also welcomed his first child at the end of 2019, revealing that the birth of his newborn son Oscar has aided his life choices.
“I’ve got a little baby boy at home now and he’s turned my world upside down.
“I’m a proud dad now and I want to live my life through him, I want to show him the world and I want to teach him as well that not everything is about just one thing, you’re only here for a short amount of time so you’ve just got to make the most of it as best as you can.
“It’s pretty weird being a parent, you’ve got to teach them how to do everything. You can’t describe the feeling of being a parent, it just changes your world.
“It changed it for the better for me and I think I needed it in life. I have a new perspective now and I want to teach him everything that I know and what I’ve been through.”