Titans recruit Taia eyes big finish
His last visit to the Gold Coast saved his playing career from a premature end and Zeb Taia has vowed to finish his rugby league career by helping to lead a Titans revival.
Chosen as a member of the 2015 Super League Team of the Year, Taia is one of coach Neil Henry's key signings as he endeavours to reshape the club culture and provide the promising young players at the club with strong leaders from whom they can learn.
Taia rejected the advances of two NRL clubs last season to complete his three-year deal with Catalans in the English Super League but told NRL.com that the time was right for he and his wife Nikki to bring their two daughters, Zali and Haven, back to Australia.
The Gold Coast already holds happy memories for Taia after he underwent career-saving neck surgery in 2011 by Dr Matthew Scott-Young after he had been told by other neck specialists to start planning for life after football.
"I wouldn't say I was broken but the thoughts were in my head that I could be retiring if I didn't find anyone to take me on and get me better to get back to playing rugby league again," Taia said of what was at the time a revolutionary disc replacement procedure that prolonged the careers of both Mat Rogers and Anthony Quinn and most recently Rabbitohs back-rower Kyle Turner.
"Matt Scott-Young put some confidence in me and said that he could fix me up and get me back in 12 weeks having come from other specialists that had said to seriously have a long think about what I wanted to do for life after footy.
"They basically said one of my discs was almost touching the spinal cord and the other was on its way. It was scary at the time but I didn't want to give up that easily.
"It would have been a three-week period where it was really scary for myself, thinking that I might have to give the game away."
When he left Australia three years ago Taia, 31, had played 107 games across eight seasons for the Eels and Knights but has taken his game to a new level during his time in Super League.
He was the club's player of the year in his second season and led the team in tries and tackle-breaks and was second for metres gained in 2015 and says the pressure of being a member of the French team's foreign legion brought out enhanced leadership skills that will be critical in the Titans rebuild.
"[Catalans] have got some good young French kids coming through but if they're recruiting from the NRL there's a massive pressure put on yourself to make sure that you play well every week," Taia said.
"I made sure that I looked after my body so I could play week in and week out. It's a long season over there, every club would have played 30 games this year, so it was the little things like how you prepare for games, how you look after your body recovery-wise, that's where I improved most when I was over in France.
"The [Titans] have recruited Dave Shillington, Nathan Friend and myself so obviously us three have to fill a lot of the gaps that have been left by all the experienced players that have left the club over the last two or three seasons.
"I've got to step my game up in the leadership role. I've been in the Super League for three seasons and had just under seven years at Newcastle. When I left Newcastle I wouldn't say I was a leader but more an experienced campaigner who knows what's expected to play in the NRL and now I need to step it up and help the young guys that are coming through.
"I still watched a lot of the NRL and I was always thinking to myself that I could still play in the NRL.
"I might be ageing a bit but I still think I have what it takes to come back and play and that was the reason first and foremost."