Tigers' Taylor warming the seat for Liddle
The Elijah Taylor experiment at hooker for the Wests Tigers will continue until Jacob Liddle is ready to take on 80-minute games, according to coach Ivan Cleary.
Taylor played No.9 last week for the first time this Telstra Premiership season, in the loss to the Warriors, and will remain there for the clash with North Queensland on Thursday.
It is not a permanent shift as Cleary has high hopes for 21-year-old Wyong Roos junior Jacob Liddle.
"Jacob Liddle is certainly earmarked for the future here at the Tigers," Cleary said at Leichhardt Oval on Wednesday leading into Thursday's round-10 game.
"We've got a lot of faith in him and think he's got a lot of potential – a really good young player.
"Jacob has had a lot of injury-disrupted pre-season. But we've got him on the bench this week.
"Elijah can definitely play hooker – he can play a lot of positions – and he's had his own injury concerns as well.
"So it's got to a point now we feel that combination is the right timing. We'll push forward with that at the moment. But there are other options in the squad."
One of those is former Cronulla hooker Matt McIlwrick, who re-signed with the Tigers for another two years at the same time as Liddle did in June 2017, but has been playing in Wests' Intrust Super Premiership team.
So while Liddle continues to grow in strength – he's played just 19 games since making his NRL debut in 2016 – Taylor has already started to turn heads at hooker.
He may give the incoming Kiwis coach Michael Maguire food for thought at No.9 for the Denver Test on June 23 against England, with all the injuries hitting Issac Luke at the moment.
Of course Luke is not the incumbent having been overlooked for the New Zealand World Cup Squad, where Newcastle's Danny Levi played the last of NZ's four Tests – the 4-2 loss to Fiji in the quarter-finals.
Taylor played No.9 for NZ in their second Test – the 74-6 thumping of Scotland.
Cleary is fielding a Kiwis international front row against the Cowboys with Taylor in between props Russell Packer and Ben Matulino. But he was coy on Taylor's chances of offering Maguire an experienced head at rake with a short lead-up to Denver.
"That's one of the external things I've been talking about. I'm not too interested – I shouldn't say that as I am interested – but we've got to concentrate on what's happening here at the Tigers," Cleary said, referring to their three straight losses after starting the season 5-1.
"I'm sure what's foremost in the guys' minds is playing football for us as a team."
Poor ball control, too many errors and penalties were at the root of the 26-4 loss to the Warriors after the Tigers had lost two close ones – by just two points – to both Parramatta and Newcastle.
Cleary was quick to point out his players were not becoming too comfortable with being in the top eight.
"It's not complacency but having said that, it's part of the evolution of the season," he said. "We did a fair bit of success early and what comes with that is external influences and distractions possibly."
Packer (knee) returning from injury and Benji Marshall playing his first game at Leichhardt in five years will help the Tigers resharpen their claws.
"Russell is a natural leader and certainly a leader in our team," Cleary said. "The guys love playing with him, and he's definitely a lift to our team."
The sight of 33-year-old Marshall taking on 35-year-old Johnathan Thurston in the halves again after their duel in the 2005 grand final was enough for the price of a ticket alone.
"There's a lot of reasons to come to the footy but that's a pretty good one," Cleary said.