Home coming... Former Warriors forward Elijah Taylor has been a defensive workhorse for Penrith this year. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Sometimes it gets so cold at this part of the season that our brains freeze and we forget how much fun rugby league can be. So let's play a bit of word association.
Think Warriors... Inconsistent.
Think Warriors coach... Insane.
Think Warriors and Warriors coach... Brain freeze.
Since Matt Elliott fell on his own sword – or had handed it to him by higher powers – back in April, in true Warriors fashion, the game's great entertainers have hopped, skipped, and fumbled their way to a typical 5-4 record. This, of course, means only one thing: that they're still the best team at being the hottest and coldest at the same time.
But one player who escaped the lunacy at Mt Smart reckons he's seen enough from his current vantage point near the top of the table to know that there's a steely quality in the Warriors' recent losses that makes them a formidable opponent.
And it stems from the insane coach in charge of the most inconsistent team in the competition.
"I know what it's like under [him]. He was our defensive coach last year," former Warriors forward Elijah Taylor told NRL.com.
"He's a good coach. He's straight to the point and he's straight up. The boys respect that. So yeah, he's a good, young coach.
"Last year we won seven or eight in a row at one point, but obviously they've been going really well lately. Defensively, they've been very good. They're turning up for each other and working hard. They've got a good leader there in Nathan Friend. It's going to be a tough battle."
Taylor, who spent his first three NRL seasons in Auckland after captaining the Junior Warriors to a premiership, spent his bye weekend with family at home in New Zealand. There, he caught up with long-time mate Jerome Ropati, who announced his immediate retirement late last month after a long battle with injuries.
"I'm really close with him, and we talked about [retirement] a few times a while back. Everyone's been gutted for him for a long time," Taylor said.
"He's had a rough time with injuries, he's just been really unlucky. Whenever you're injured, and it happens a lot of times, you always struggle. But he's good – he got a job at the club and the Warriors are looking after him."
To that end, Taylor does not see his first game against his old club as an emotional one. The 24-year-old has lived across the Tasman for over six months now, but the decision to make move was announced over a year ago.
So any sensitivities he had at returning to Mt Smart has been quelled with a trademark desire to do what he's been paid to do: his job.
"I've been following them, but not as close as what people would think," he said. "My job's here for Penrith and I'm focused on how I can get better and how we can get better as a team.
"I haven't had too many emotions, to be honest. When I get on the field, it'll be just another game. I'll have to do my job. If I'm thinking about emotions, well then I'm not doing my job."
The Warriors could be without one of their in-form players in Ngani Laumape, who has been charged with a grade three dangerous throw from last weekend's victory over Brisbane. The Panthers, meanwhile, could get high-profile recruit Jamal Idris back from his personal leave of absence. The hulking three-quarter made a solid return for Penrith's NSW Cup team last Sunday.
"It's good to see big 'Jammer' back. He's great around the boys," Taylor said. "He's always laughing, always bringing that smile – it rubs off on the boys.
"We always knew he was going to come back and he was going to be Jamal. We weren't expecting anything less. He's been training well. He played for reserve grade and from all accounts he went well.
"He'll bring his presence. He's very hard to defend against – he's got those great feet and he's very strong. Take nothing away from Isaah Yeo. He's been playing really well as a second-rower in the centres. Defensively he's been good, but Jamal brings that experience."