He didn’t realise it at the time, but South Sydney wrecking ball Dave Taylor is starting to see that his dumping from the Queensland squad for this year’s State of Origin decider could well prove to be the best thing that ever happened to him.
Criticised for his application and told by Maroons coach Mal Meninga to work on his preparation, Taylor has returned to Souths as a man on a mission over the past month, playing a huge role in the Rabbitohs’ surge to the top four on the back of four consecutive wins.
“I was definitely in a safe zone with the way I was going,” Taylor told NRL.com ahead of Sunday’s clash with Wests Tigers. “I was happy with how I was going and was happy to just keep going along the same, so it was a bit of a wake-up call for me.
“Mal spoke to me about my attention to detail and things like that. I mean, I can’t really call myself a young player anymore. I’m one of the more experienced players in the side now and I think I need to show that on the field.
“You can get away with a few silly mistakes when you’re younger but when you’re 24 or 25 you’ve got to be playing with that consistency. It’s something I’m working hard on. I’ve worked on some of the things that I wouldn’t normally work on and I think it’s paying off for me.”
Still, Taylor admits that it’s been a tough year for him in some respects as he learns to fulfil the expectations that come with being a representative player – expectations that will only intensify this weekend in the absence of suspended Rabbitohs duo Greg Inglis and Issac Luke.
The 23-year-old was overlooked at the start of the season when coach Michael Maguire named five club captains for season 2012 and said he was still struggling to come to terms with the fact that so many of his team-mates look to him to spark the side in times of need.
“I’m not really sure… I definitely struggle sometimes with thinking I’m a leader,” he explains when asked about his importance to the South Sydney cause. “I still feel like I’m a little kid. It’s something I really need to work hard on, knowing that I am a leader.
“I’m still only young but I’ve got a lot of experience now so I need to make sure that I use that experience the best way possible. I need to be consistent all year round. The whole team expects me to be like that too, so it’s something I need to work hard on.”
Key to that has been learning how to best utilise his unique array of skills when charging down the Rabbitohs’ right edge.
Blessed not only with brute strength but a deft passing game usually reserved for the halves, Taylor has produced more than his fair share of magic moments in recent weeks: a barnstorming run and offload for Nathan Merritt to score against Penrith; a superb cut-out for Andrew Everingham to cross in the same game; a clever flick for Dylan Farrell against the Knights; and two inspired touches for two stunning tries in that memorable comeback win over the Roosters.
Yet he has often attracted criticism for those very plays. When he was dropped from the Origin decider, Queensland great Gorden Tallis was brutal in his assessment of Taylor’s efforts – insisting the hulking back-rower needed to focus solely on the nitty-gritty.
“He had a chance a couple of weeks ago on the big stage, second State of Origin, to do this,” Tallis told Fox Sports at the time. “All those big, flashy passes… that's what Johnathan Thurston does, that's what Cooper Cronk does, or Greg Inglis.
“He is there to jump in the trenches. I want to stick up for the Queensland side because the decision [to drop him] is a decision for the future of Dave Taylor at Origin level. You can't play like this in Origin.”
Taylor, though, insists he is pleased with his progress – pointing to coach Michael Maguire as the man he heeds advice from these days.
“I don’t buy into anything anyone says outside the club,” he says. “Gorden has got his opinion and I respect that but I just listen to ‘Madge’ and what he has to say. He is the one coaching the team.
“I don’t read the media or any criticism. We’ve got a coach here that tells us if we’re playing bad or playing good. He is definitely one of the best coaches I’ve had. He knows a hell of a lot so he is the one that I take the advice off. I try to ignore any criticism and make sure I’m doing what ‘Madge’ wants me to do, not what Joe Blow on the street wants me to do.”
Asked what Maguire expects from him when he dons that Rabbitohs jersey each week, Taylor said: “Just doing the hard work first – that’s my main focus. Obviously the skill is going to come naturally on top of that, so I’ve just got to make sure I don’t think about it too much and just let it happen.
“The good thing about ‘Madge’ is that he is a real hard marker and he’s not afraid to tell you all about it if you’ve had a bad game, but he is really good with his videos too. He won’t just tell you, he’ll show you what you’ve done wrong and that’s one of the assets I’ve found this year. I’ve learnt a lot this year with him going into that detail. He goes through it all and helps you realise what you’re doing in the game – and what you should be doing. All of a sudden you find yourself doing it.”
Given Taylor’s blockbusting form of late, you can just about picture the smile that appears on Gold Coast coach John Cartwright’s face every time he sees footage of his new recruit decimating opposition defensive lines.
After three years at Redfern, Taylor will head to the Titans in 2013 on a rich four-year deal that spells bad news for Souths given that they are finally starting to live up to their massive potential.
“But you can never have regrets,” he says when it is pointed out that his time at the Rabbitohs is quickly drawing to a close.
“It’s going to be very tough. The boys are awesome. Everyone is just so close and I love everyone’s company, so it’s going to be tough to say goodbye.
“I’m really enjoying my spot there on the right and I love playing outside [Adam Reynolds] in attack. We’ve got a good little combination now with Dyl (Farrell) and ‘Ren’ and ‘Evo’ [Andrew Everingham]. But that’s just the way it goes.”
As for the prospect of parting ways along with the premiership South Sydney fans have craved since their last success in 1971?
“It would mean everything,” he says. “To be able to do it for Souths, I don’t think I could ever top that. It’s hard to describe with words but it would probably mean a lot more to me to win the comp this year than it would any other year.
“But the main thing for me is to make sure I finish the year strong. I’m pretty happy with how everything is going for me now. Obviously being dropped by Queensland was quite disappointing but bouncing back and playing a few good games for Souths… I’ve definitely got my smile back.”