Courageous Taylor set to step up
Running out onto Suncorp Stadium in front of 50,000 (mostly) hostile fans isn't intimidating; asking the greatest rugby league coach for permission to break ranks before you've even played an NRL game, now that's intimidating.
Rookie Titans half Ashley Taylor is in position to bring to an end the season of the club that identified and nurtured him from 14 years of age, just 14 months after Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett agreed to grant Taylor an early release from his contract.
Taylor went on to make his NRL debut with the Broncos against the Storm in front of a crowd of 44,000 in Round 26 last season but doesn't hide his burning ambition to bring them undone on Friday night.
"There's going to be a massive crowd there and I'm just looking forward to getting out there in Titans colours and sticking it to them at their home ground," said Taylor, who was named Holden Cup Player of the Year whilst playing for the Broncos last season.
He has passed every NRL test with flying colours this season and is a raging hot favourite to be named Dally M Rookie of the Year but it could have been a very different year had he not mustered the courage to approach Bennett asking for a favour.
With Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford in the throes of guiding Brisbane to the 2015 Grand Final, Taylor – and Bennett – knew that opportunities would likely be rare in first grade and the master coach gave his blessing for the 20-year-old to find an NRL opportunity elsewhere.
"It's very daunting being a 20-year-old and going up to the first grade coach and asking for a release," Taylor said this week.
"It was very tough and something that I never thought I wanted to do but I had to do it to better my career and this is where I am now.
"I just tried to prove to Wayne that I was ready for first grade and that's what I tried to do every week. It was very tough at the club but since I'm down here I'm very happy.
"He's a great bloke for obviously letting me go. He's given me the opportunity and he started my career down here for me."
Taylor and Tyrone Roberts have formed an almost inseparable combination as the Titans' scrumbase duo this season and their clash with Milford and Hunt represents just one of a number of intriguing sub-plots.
Milford has sprung to life in recent weeks with the type of form that electrified the Telstra Premiership in the early rounds while Titans coach Neil Henry believes Hunt is edging ever closer to his best football.
"I think Milford has been outstanding," Henry said.
"Very dangerous runner of the ball whereas Hunt's been a little bit quiet but I think he's got his running game back. Both kick the ball well and support well.
"They've got a lot of strike across the park and their forwards like to move the ball around so we're expecting to have to really chase and stay together to defend them.
"They play an up-tempo style of footy and we're going to have to match their energy but I think their halves are the key."
Having spent two seasons training with the first grade squad Taylor has run more opposed sessions against Hunt and Milford than he'd care to remember and knows better than most the threat they each bring.
"They're great players. Milford's very elusive with the ball and Ben Hunt is starting to find some form the last few weeks heading into the finals so we've just got to watch out for anything," said Taylor.
"[Hunt's] running game was one of the best last year and this year he's just lacked that a bit but I'm sure he's going to bring his A game this week.
"We'll be getting plenty of traffic down our edge with him running down there and Milford as well."
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