Titans put Dave on centre stage
It was touted as a last throw of the dice but Titans coach John Cartwright believes Dave Taylor's move to the centres last week could become a permanent shift, insisting his hulking frame is no longer suited to the rigours in the middle.
In a gamble that paid off with a man-of-the-match performance against Newcastle on Sunday, Taylor ran for 191 metres, scored a try, laid one on for Mark Minichiello and made a total of six tackle breaks in the 22-8 victory.
In the only other game of his career where he started in the centres, the Titans recorded a 22-6 win over the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval with Taylor contributing 177m, three tackle-breaks and one line-break assist and has made just one error from both games.
He has filled in at centre during games when injuries have struck but in naming Taylor in the No.4 jersey to face Parramatta at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday evening, Cartwright indicated that it could be the key to getting the best out of the eight-time Origin representative.
"He's not your traditional centre with speed and evasion and pretty to watch, he just trucks the ball up as hard as he can and he pulls numbers to him and makes a lot of metres," said Cartwright, who gets Greg Bird back from suspension this week but has lost Luke Bailey with a hamstring injury.
"Sometimes you've just got to do what's good for your team and when he plays in the centres, for whatever reason, it just seems to benefit the team. He's got a lot of games and improvement in front of him but while it's working we'd be mad not to keep going with it.
"To be honest with you, he's not really made to play in the middle of the rugby league field. He's 120 kilograms and it's a lot of effort to drag that around the field, not a lot of guys can do it.
"He's fortunate that he is quite quick, he's got good feet and he's got good game awareness so centre is not all that foreign to him because of how fast he is and how good he is on his feet, he just hasn't played a lot of footy there and he's only going to get better there."
The Titans were put under plenty of pressure by an admittedly misfiring Knights attack late in last Sunday's clash but were able to maintain their defensive resolve thanks in part to the work done by Taylor in helping the forwards at the other end of the field.
"It is hard to tell [when he will play well] but putting him out in the centres gives him a bit more of a free rein and he gets our sets off to a good start, which he did awesome on the weekend," said Titans prop Luke Douglas.
"We ran with a lot of scooters and with Dave and the wingers and centres got in and did a fair bit of work and it was only one hit-up for us forwards before the kick so it did help in defence.
"We knew our defence had to be on and it definitely kept us a bit fresh towards the end."
Despite the expectation from fans and criticism he attracts when not at his best, Taylor's performances throughout 2014 have him leading the count for the Paul Broughton Medal by a significant margin ahead of Nate Myles, David Mead and Paul Carter as the club's best and fairest.
Mark Minichiello was the beneficiary of a Dave Taylor try assist against the Knights and backed the positional change on the left edge.
"First time I've had him playing outside me," Minichiello said. "He tends to get his steam up out there and I think he likes playing out in the centres a little bit more, doesn't have to do as much defence and maybe suits him better.
"I expected him to have a big game after the week before. He was a bit flat the week before and I knew he'd come out and have a big game and it really helped the team."
Despite having five missed tackles go against his name, defensively Taylor kept Newcastle opposite Dane Gagai to his third lowest metre tally of the season, a sound effort against a player who has four of the top 17 metre gains of centres this year.
Taylor will mark up on Eels right centre Ryan Morgan on Saturday and Cartwright knows that the men on the inside will have to work hard to stop their strike weapon from being exposed.
"If you're winning tackles and winning metres with good line speed it makes it easy on your edge defenders and that's what happened [against Newcastle]," Cartwright said.
"There are going to be times when a guy like Gagai is coming at him with momentum and speed and he's going to stand him up; that's just nature, he's quicker than him. But while ever everyone inside is doing their job and controlling the ruck Dave will continue to handle defensively what they throw at him."