Devastated Taia fuelled by finals exit
Devastated back-rower Zeb Taia says he will use the disappointment of missing Friday night's elimination final loss to the Broncos through injury to take the Titans even deeper into September in 2017.
A quadriceps injury suffered by Taia in the warm-up was Gold Coast's first piece of misfortune on a night where nothing seemed to go right as their first finals appearance in six years ended with a 44-28 loss to their arch rivals.
In his first season in the NRL since 2012, Taia started every game in the regular season for the Titans but was named on the bench against Brisbane as a way of protecting a groin injury that had been troubling him in the weeks prior.
But coach Neil Henry's plan was thrown into chaos in the minutes before kick-off as Taia felt discomfort in his right quad and made the heart-wrenching decision withdraw from the game for the sake of the team.
Taia's last NRL finals appearance was with the Knights back in 2011 and he said having to watch the events of Friday night unfold from the sideline will drive him when pre-season training begins in mid-November.
"It definitely fuels me because obviously I missed the game," Taia said.
"That was definitely my goal, to come back and play finals footy so I've definitely got that motivation already. I was hoping to play another game next week.
"If you assess the year, you have a lot of what-ifs and we just need to make sure we have a good pre-season and start the ball rolling, make sure everyone is fit and ready to go come the trials next season.
"Obviously the boys have had a sniff of what finals footy is like. Guys like Ash [Taylor] are only young and I'm pretty sure he will use that as motivation because he had to come off with a hip pointer injury as well."
The 31-year-old said he felt "something pinch" as he began the warm-up on Friday night and although he tried everything he could to be able to play, made the selfless decision to rule himself out for the sake of the team.
"I've had groin problems and been managing that and the idea was for me to come off the bench and get out of the heat of the moment because of my groins but I went out there and my whole right side was struggling," Taia told NRL.com.
"I tried everything to see if I could get back into the warm-up but every time I was running it was aggravating.
"I've made decisions like this in the past when I said I was sweet and then went out and played really poorly. I didn't want to let the team down and made that decision to be ruled out."
After an outstanding three years with Catalans in the English Super League Taia was recruited by Titans coach Neil Henry to bring a greater sense of professionalism to the squad and to provide leadership to the younger players.
The mix of existing players such as Greg Bird, Ryan James and Luke Douglas and recruits in Taia, Nathan Friend and Chris McQueen produced a team that lost only three games by more than 10 points all season and Taia is confident they can replicate the same spirit in 2017.
"You've got guys like Ryan James who were stepping up real big this year, guys that have come to the club like Konrad Hurrell and Nathan Peats and 'Haynesy' (Jarryd Hayne)," said Taia.
"When you look at all the players we've recruited and the senior players we've still got that good leadership there.
"I think we just need to build on it and make sure that we start where we left off, that we've still got that fighting spirit in us."
James, who was anointed by outgoing skipper Nathan Friend as the man to lead the Titans in future, also believes the pain of a finals defeat will inspire the team to go even further next year.
"We know what it feels like now to lose in a semi," James said.
"I've played seven years of first grade and it's the first semi I've played in so it's just going to add fuel to the fire to work harder and bring this club up a notch and go further.
"We know what it takes now and we have to go one step further this pre-season.
"The boys this year have done a great job getting us up to scratch and it really showed. The boys were hanging in there and coming up with effort plays and it's just great that everyone wants to play for each other and that came down to the pre-season training."