Taia ready to take on Knights
Titans forward Zeb Taia has expressed relief that a tackle from more than two years ago on the other side of the world didn't rob him of the chance to face off against his former club Newcastle in Round 1 next weekend.
The countdown to the start of the NRL Telstra Premiership season is now under double digits but Taia was concerned that a lifting tackle on Greg Inglis in last Saturday's trial against the Rabbitohs would see him on the sideline serving a suspension when the Titans began their season.
A Grade 1 Dangerous Throw charge attracts just 93 points with an early guilty plea, meaning Taia will get to play his first game in the NRL since Round 26, 2012 against the team where he played 101 games over six seasons.
The 31-year-old admitted that his mind had gone back to a three-game suspension he served for a shoulder charge while playing for Catalans in the English Super League in 2013 and was grateful that his disciplinary record was clear upon his return to the NRL.
"I was getting myself ready to miss maybe the first two games but during the session yesterday Neil [Henry, Titans coach] came up to me and said it was only a Grade 1 and with the early guilty plea I was free to play," Taia said. "Very stoked that I get to go up against my old club, the Newcastle Knights.
"When someone like [Inglis] is running at you you've got to put a lot of intent into the tackle.
"He's so strong up top and you see him bump off anyone in the game and I just thought that it was going to be an easy 'fake high, go low' tackle and it just ended up that all of his body weight went over the top of me.
"I was still driving in the tackle and it ended up in an awkward position.
"Just stoked that I get to play next week."
Not offered a new contract by then Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett at the end of the 2012 season, Taia said that the prospect of playing against his old team in the first game of the season excites him.
He maintains a strong affection for the club that helped him through a potentially career-ending neck injury in 2011 but said there will be something extra to play for when he makes his Titans debut at Cbus Super Stadium.
"I've got to try and control my emotions because it's a really close club who made me who I am today," Taia said.
"When I first saw the draw and that we were playing against them it put a bit of fire in the belly to get myself ready for that Round 1 game and I think I've done that now.
"I've still got a lot of good mates there in the team now and they're probably some of my closest mates.
"No hard feelings towards the club or even Wayne. Wayne was awesome to me that year. He taught me a lot as a football player, how to prepare off field and all the psychological things in rugby league so I learnt a lot off Wayne.
"I think it was just time to move and try something else and obviously going to Super League was a good move. I had three good seasons over there and had the desire to come back. Good move in the end."
With a semi-final finish at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines, a 20-all draw with the Eels and a 22-20 loss to the Rabbitohs in the pre-season, the Titans have shown enough to suggest they can defy their short odds to finish with the wooden spoon.
With home games against the Knights and Wests Tigers in the first three weeks a strong start is crucial and Taia believes that minimising their errors in attack will be the focus for the coming fortnight.
"We need to fix up our errors," said Taia, who was named in the 2015 Super League Team of the Year.
"We've said it for the two weeks so we can't keep that going into Round 1. If we keep having these little lapses in our game with dropped balls and silly errors it's going to cost us.
"We've got to take the opportunities when they arise. We had quite a few against the Rabbitohs and we struggled to capitalise on them.
"The defensive side is pretty good at the moment but on the attacking side we need to be more disciplined with the ball."