Still just 25 years of age, Gold Coast Titan’s key play maker Ash Taylor has now played over 100 first grade games. One of those was in a Brisbane Broncos kit, way back in the final round of the 2015 NRL season, whilst the remainder have been with the Titans.
It has been a tumultuous ride for the much discussed halfback. 2016 saw him earn the Dally M Rookie of the Year award and after two seasons with Gold Coast he appeared likely to become one of the most valuable and creative little men in the game.
Such a sentiment was widely held and did not escape the front office of the Titans, when a four year top-up deal was offered and accepted. Yet to this day there remains speculation around its value. Sections of the media enjoyed labelling Taylor as the million dollar man, a figure the player himself has denied categorically in the past.
If the Titans had indeed forked out a seven digit figure, they must surely have questioned that investment at different moments over the last three seasons.
Despite playing well at times and featuring in the Indigenous All-Stars match, Taylor’s impact in 2017 did not mirror the plaudits he had received in 2016 and the season became something of a disaster for the club.
Jarryd Hayne selfishly drew destructive attention towards himself amidst the stand-off with then-coach Neil Henry and the team ended the season a dismal 15th on the ladder.
With his new contract in place, Taylor began 2018 hoping not only for a personal improvement in form but also for gains across the entire team that would see it competing for a finals place. It was not to be and 14th on the ladder was the best the Titans could manage; with growing talk surrounding the lack of improvement and development being seen in their starting halfback.
Whilst unnecessary, talk that Taylor was at that time the most overpaid and overrated player in the game was quite fair. The problem was that the player himself, rather than blocking out the noise and working on a solution to both his and the Titan’s issues, began to hear the chatter.
For Taylor, the abyss appeared to grow deeper and deeper. With each Gold Coast loss came increased analysis of his personal numbers and overall performance and what had seemed like his natural ascension to a position as one of the key play makers in the NRL now appeared questionable.
Frankly, many people held the belief that the Titans had gone all in on a promising young player who had now proven to be a dud.
That troublesome time in 2018 may have felt like rock bottom for Taylor, yet soon after the commencement of the 2019 season he was to disappear completely from the game for over two months; granted indefinite leave to deal with personal issues that were obviously hampering his performances.
The Titans claimed the spoon, sacked their coach mid-season and Taylor ended up playing reserve grade upon his return.
It was a year to forget, just as much as 2020 may well prove to be one to remember and a turning point for the long-standing battlers of the NRL.
New coach Justin Holbrook has pulled the proverbial rabbit from his hat, turning a dysfunctional team into a dangerous attacking unit. Gold Coast will finish a creditable ninth on the ladder this season, winning six of their last eight matches and five consecutive to complete the year.
At the helm has been Taylor. The man from Toowoomba with a hefty salary, immense responsibility and the necessary tricks of the trade, is back.
Holbrook appears to have simplified his game, instilled more grunt into the Titan’s defence and brought some much needed respectability to the club. Taylor’s passes are sticking, his kicks more consistently pin-point and the decision making around when to ignore both options and run the ball, decisive.
As rugby league often provides for, it is a redemption story in the making.
Statistically, Taylor’s numbers are slowly building. In 2020 he produced 13 line-break assists, 12 try-assists and forced 11 drop outs with deft kicking. Defensively he has continued to struggle and missed/ineffective tackles have indeed plagued his career. No doubt Holbrook will be keen to focus on that weakness, now that his marquee man has rediscovered his confidence.
Ash Taylor is nowhere near the finished article. Yet for neutral fans it has been nothing but a pleasure to see such a talented player smiling his way through the late season success of the Titans.
Should he and the Titans unlock another five or ten per cent of improvement in 2021, they will play finals. And a confident Taylor at the helm lies at the core of that possibility.