Kane Elgey, the Titans’ boom boy ‘pre-Ash Taylor’, is in a good place going into what I’m forecasting will be his season of redemption in 2018.
That is: in Taylor’s shadow, predominantly out of the limelight, operating on the left-edge of the field next to the man he trusts most in the team - skipper Ryan James - and, perhaps most importantly, in a clear head-space for the first time in over two years.
Elgey admits he’d lost his love for the game in the back half of last season, even feeling he wasn’t good enough to be in the Titans team.
Yet an off-season trip to America where he took time for reflection, a more balanced “what will be” outlook and a strong off-season during which he has thrived having James on his right shoulder, sees the precociously-talented half enter this season with renewed confidence.
Too often looking like he was carrying the world on his shoulders throughout a troubled 2017 after missing all the previous season because of an ACL injury suffered in training, the 24-year-old local product admits he will take a whole new mind-frame into a make-or-break season that starts with Sunday’s clash with the Canberra Raiders … and his rookie-season halves partner Aidan Sezer.
Elgey will admit his nature has been to worry too much about expectations and events around him, tangle too deeply with a fear of failure and perhaps pressure himself too much to prove his worth to his home club since knocking back an offer from Manly in the aftermath of the Daly Cherry-Evans contract-reneging saga and signing a rich deal in 2015 while on the way to being the club’s rookie of the year.
So it’s refreshing to hear Elgey talk about shutting out any distractions and just enjoying football again.
Because that’s what will bring the best out of him while Taylor, a year younger but with the responsibility of being the highest-paid Titan and the man to run the show, takes on the senior playmaking role.
“It was me as a person; I have learned a lot,” Elgey says of the burden he seemed to carry last season.
“I was a 23 year old trying to come back from the injury, in the media all the time, getting private messages on social media and all that, while it wasn’t the best year [on the field].
“Towards the end of the end, it got to the point that I didn’t think I was good enough to be there [in the Titans team] any more, and yeah, I can’t deny it, I’d stopped loving playing football.
“But I learned it’s part of being a footballer and this year I’m going to ignore all that. I’m going to work as hard as I can but try to have fun and my approach to life now is whatever is meant to be is meant to be.
“It’s the last year of my contract but I’m not going to even think about that; I just want to go out there each week and have fun and play well for the team.”
James, a fellow Palm Beach Currumbin high school graduate three years older than Elgey but a close mate and mentor, has been a valuable ally and just the man to help Elgey rediscover his undoubted ability to be a first-class NRL match-winner.
And their mutual trust is going to be a real key to the Titans’ season, as much in defence on the left-edge as the opportunity for Elgey to find some space for a rampaging James on the fringe of the ruck.
Elgey’s defensive efforts in reading the play as much as his contact on his man, can dictate his confidence. In 2016, with James on the left edge in 14 of Elgey’s first 16 NRL games, they forged a good defensive understanding.
“Defensively, it’s as much trust and defensive movements and I think I struggled with that,” Elgey said.
“Last season, we had a different centre and back-rower just about every week on my left side and that came into play. But I did miss some tackles too. This pre-season has been defensive-based and I have my mate ‘Dark’ on the edge with me and that trust is really strong; that makes a big difference.”
James has the ultimate confidence that Titans fans will see the best of his little blond mate in coming months, on the back of new coach Garth Brennan assuring Elgey before Christmas he would get first crack at the No. 6 jersey.
“I think we’re about to see the best of ‘Elg’,” James says.
“And I’m really looking forward to playing right beside him. We’re pretty close and are really committed to re-creating what we had in 2016; that memory gives us confidence of what we can do.
“He’s not over-thinking things now. That’s something I suffered from early in my career, and I think he’s getting past that and he seems more relaxed.
“Kane is a very tough marker on himself. But coming back from an ACL injury is hard going, particularly when you’re a half and do a lot of the kicking and talking. I thought he had a fair few good games last year.
“It’s not just what he can do in attack but we have been working hard on our defence together in the whole off-season but we know we have a tough task first up in Canberra’s right edge with Rapana, Leilua and Whitehead.
“I can’t wait. He’s got so much ability Kane.”