Nothing to prove for Elijah Taylor against Penrith
Discarded Panther Elijah Taylor insists he has nothing to prove this weekend when he comes up against the club that had no place for him earlier this year.
The impressive Wests Tigers mid-season recruit took out his frustrations in his first couple of games back in first grade at his new club.
Speaking to NRL.com prior to his first game against the club that first demoted him to the Intrust Super Premiership before allowing him to leave his contract early for an opportunity at Concord, the Kiwi international went so far as to suggest he owed Tigers coach Jason Taylor a debt for taking a risk on a reserve grade player.
That self-deprecating assessment has proved wide of the mark in the 10-Test veteran's 13 games in black, white and gold as he has added considerable starch to the team's middle defence while occasionally showing a ball-playing flair that was rarely on show in his time at Penrith and, before that, the Warriors.
"It's going to be a tough game but I've got no point to prove. Emotionally it was taken out on the first games [with the Tigers]," Taylor said.
The lock also stressed that he left Penrith on good terms and still has plenty of mates in the team – "But for 80 minutes I'll be going as hard as I can to try and win".
"It's a big call for a coach to get someone out of reserve grade and start him in the first-grade team. It's a lot of belief shown," he said of the lifeline thrown by the Tigers.
"The encouragement to get the ball in my hand and play the game plan, that's what I've got to do and I'm very comfortable with that. I always have been comfortable but the game plan hasn't always been that way.
"I'm grateful they gave me the opportunity to play grade again and I'm going to do all I can to play well for the Tigers."
Plenty has changed in the three months since Taylor departed the foot of the mountains. For one, a talented youngster who was proving too good for the under-20s competition has been handed a first-grade debut and since made a pretty good fist of it.
Taylor said he's been impressed by the form and maturity of Nathan Cleary as he has watched on from afar. Taylor was a favourite player of Nathan's father Ivan, who coached Taylor at the Warriors then brought him to Penrith before each was let go a few months apart.
"I remember Nath, he trained with us in pre-season a couple of times and I thought, 'this kid's sharp'," Taylor recalled of the teenager who will be looking to plot the Tigers' downfall this Friday night.
"He had a trial game with us in first grade. I'm really happy for him. Really happy for Ivan.
"The maturity he shows, obviously he's got that from somewhere so it's definitely from Ivan who's raised him really well.
"It's awesome, it's good to see. He's a real humble kid, he does the basics really well, supports, pushes, tackles well. Credit to him."
This Friday marks the first of a pretty big double-header for Taylor, who will face his other old club the following week when the Tigers travel to Auckland. Adding further intensity to both clashes is the fact the Warriors and Panthers, along with the Titans who beat the Tigers last week, round out the four clubs jostling each other for the final two spots in the top eight over the closing rounds.
"They're both going to be difficult games, both very tough sides. Both got a lot of strike power," Taylor said.