Elgey and Taylor: the pairing that never really took flight

Kane Elgey has something that Ash Taylor craves - but 12 months ago it was a very different scenario.

It was the great Jack Gibson that said: "Talent is secondary to whether players are confident."

And ahead of their showdown at Lottoland on Friday night when the Sea Eagles host the Titans, both Elgey and Taylor can relate.

When Taylor was released from the Broncos by Wayne Bennett so that he could pursue an NRL opportunity at the Titans, he and Elgey were touted as the playmaking pairing that the club could build a team around for the next decade; a creative coupling capable of delivering a premiership.

Sterling and Kenny; Langer and Walters; Stuart and Daley; Elgey and Taylor.

In hindsight it was ridiculous to suggest the pair would one day occupy a place amongst such illustrious company, yet when Taylor headed south at the end of the 2015 season that was exactly the future that was envisioned.

Elgey, a free-running, left-footed five-eighth with a passing game compared favourably with that of Andrew Johns and Taylor, a genuine No.7 with an impeccable kicking game and as quick between the ears as he was across the ground.

In consecutive years they were named the best player in the under-20s National Youth Competition, Elgey named the Titans' Rookie of the Year in 2015 and Taylor the NRL's best newcomer a year later.

Now here they were united at a team crying out for a golden age to break out on the glitter strip yet this dynamic duo never got off the ground.

A knee injury that ended Elgey’s 2016 season in the first week of January meant that they didn't play together until round one the following year, the unfailingly polite five-eighth relegating Tyrone Roberts to the bench despite the former Knight guiding the Titans to an unlikely finals appearance alongside Taylor the year before.

On 16 occasions the Titans ran out with an Elgey-Taylor halves combination in 2017 yet won just three times; when Roberts and Taylor played together that same season the team won four from five.

It was obvious that Taylor and Roberts had developed a strong bond off the field and that the young No.7 played better with Roberts in the team.

Elgey was struggling to recapture the form he displayed in his debut season due in part to the hangover of his ACL injury and the self-imposed pressure he carried like a dead weight.

Now Elgey is the toast of the peninsula as part of a Manly team defying all pre-season predictions and injury crises to sit fifth on the Telstra Premiership ladder, while Taylor is being questioned as to why the highest paid player at the club can’t convert 16-0 leads into two competition points.

Following Magic Round last week Elgey spent time on the Gold Coast catching up with family and friends, Titans winger Anthony Don seeing the same glint in the 25-year-old’s eye that was evident when he came into first grade in 2015.

"The last two to three weeks he's been playing really good footy. It's like when he broke onto the scene at the Titans,” Don told NRL.com.

“Kane was killing it back then and then obviously had a few injuries and what-not and didn't really rediscover that early form.

"He's well and truly got that back now at Manly which is really good to see as a friend and I'm looking forward to playing against him for the first time on Friday.”

Titans half Ash Taylor
Titans half Ash Taylor ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

It’s the type of confidence that Taylor now seeks.

A quadriceps injury in pre-season and a knock to the knee in his second game back in round five sowed the seeds of self-doubt, doubt that was evident as he died with the ball with the game on the line last Saturday.

There have been glimpses of the talent that had Matthew Johns proclaiming him as the game’s next great play maker little more than a year ago, but at 24 years of age Taylor admits that expectation can be a heavy burden.

"It's tough. To be 24 years old and being labelled as the highest paid at the club, there's a lot of pressure on you. It all falls back on your shoulders,” he admitted ahead of his 78th NRL appearance.

"You've just got to play with confidence. You've got to try things to try and make it work. You've got to go outside of your comfort zone to make something work.

"Elg' has been brilliant for Manly. He's probably the one to watch out on the field. He's really stood up since DCE [Daly Cherry-Evans] went down and it's a huge bonus for him that he's playing some great footy.

"He's showing confidence in every game he's played and I'm really stoked for him the way he's been playing his footy."

And no doubt envious of the confidence Elgey has been able to cultivate.