Days of Benji-ball are over says Taylor
As a 10-year-old growing up in Toowoomba he was captivated by the extraordinary skill exhibited by Benji Marshall in the Wests Tigers' premiership season of 2005 but Titans rookie Ashley Taylor says that style of play no longer fits in the modern game.
Marshall is due to return from a hamstring strain at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday afternoon as St George Illawarra endeavour to turn around a horror fortnight in Queensland where they have conceded 62 points and failed to score a single point themselves.
With a shared background in touch football before progressing through to the heights of the NRL, the opportunity to directly oppose the Kiwi superstar is one Taylor could not have possibly envisaged a decade ago.
Although Marshall's allegiance to New Zealand made him a tough player to love for the patriotic Taylor, he said watching him bring a touch football style to international rugby league certainly caught his eye.
Marshall's tendency to drift across field to link with outside supports or drop runners in on his inside has had defensive lines in a spin since his spectacular entry into the NRL in 2003 and was born out of his days of representing New Zealand in touch football.
A representative of Queensland and Australian Indigenous touch football teams himself, Taylor said that the modern way of strict attacking structures makes it almost impossible to incorporate touch football tricks into his repertoire.
"I watched him when I was in primary school watching him playing against Australia and playing for the Tigers and he was just a freak. I can't wait to get out there and play against him," Taylor told NRL.com.
"I didn't really like him because obviously he's from New Zealand and I always loved Australia but he's definitely someone I looked up to in the games.
"Obviously playing against Australia and putting all these touch moves on and stepping sideways... It would be good to play like that these days but you can't do it, you can't go sideways."
With Tyrone Roberts expected to miss another week with bone bruising in his knee the Titans' halves pairing of Taylor and Cameron Cullen with eight NRL games between them face off against a Dragons combination of Marshall and Gareth Widdop boasting more than 350 first grade games and 45 Tests.
In his NRL debut in Round 26 last year Taylor went head-to-head with Melbourne maestro Cooper Cronk and said facing highly credentialed halves is simply part of his weekly NRL education at this point of his career.
"They have a lot of experience behind them but just haven't been successful the past few weeks and we're looking to build our game and I can't wait to get out there and verse a New Zealand international," Taylor said.
"Week in and week out you're versing someone who has played rep footy before. Benji and Gareth are obviously both great players and I'm just looking forward to the challenge.
"Obviously I'm a rookie this year and I'm looking to get out there and mix it with them."
Co-captain William Zillman played his first game with Taylor in last Sunday's 25-20 loss to the Sharks in Sydney and said he was impressed by the composure shown by such a young playmaker expected to play the dominant role.
"For a guy that's played seven first grade games now he's going very well," Zillman said.
"Getting better and better every week, learning every week but at the same time for such a young guy he does sort of seem like he's been around for a couple of years. He's got quite a patient head on him for a young half.
"Being a young half, one of the hardest skills to develop is generally your talk but Ash is coming on in leaps and bounds with every game. You hear him the whole time out there and that's what we want from our half."
Added Taylor: "Obviously I've got to step up with Tyrone not being there so I'm out there calling the shots for the team and leading the team around
"At the start it was pretty tough. I wasn't as vocal as what Tyrone was on the field. He was out there directing us around but I've had to take on that role now and I'm pretty comfortable with it."