Ash Taylor will make his rugby league return 1200 kilometres from the NRL spotlight after being cleared to play for Tweed Seagulls against the Central Queensland Capras on Saturday evening.
Absent from the Titans team for six weeks after seeking time out to address personal issues, Taylor will be a late inclusion for the Seagulls at Wayne Taylor Oval in Ilfracombe - a town of just 348 people near Longreach in western Queensland - as part of Intrust Super Cup Country Week.
It’s a far cry from playing at Cbus Super Stadium against the ladder-leading Melbourne Storm on Sunday afternoon but is the next critical step in his return to the top flight, a return that could happen as early as next week against the Broncos.
Days after declining the opportunity to take a shot at penalty goal that could have levelled the scores against the Cowboys in round 12, Taylor met with club officials to seek permission to step back from the NRL spotlight.
That request was granted and now less than a week after the abrupt end of coach Garth Brennan's tenure, their star half will return to the rugby league field, albeit in less salubrious surroundings than he has become accustomed.
Watt: This is the last stand for Titans
How long the club’s highest paid player spends in Intrust Super Cup will be determined by his personal progression but Titans executive chairman Dennis Watt said a strong performance for Tweed will be a step in the right direction.
“I don’t think he’s too far away [from an NRL return],” Watt said in a video message to Titans members.
“He’d certainly be knocking on the door with a strong game this week if he plays with confidence, which I expect.
“He’s got a full array of skills and at his best there are few playmakers in the game who can match it with Ash.
“I wouldn’t expect anything too spectacular on day one just as long as he plays confidently and strongly and is happy with his own performance.
“Ash has worked very, very hard with the team that we have put around him in the last several weeks and he’s ticked every box.
“He’s been training very strongly and very competitive in the sessions with the team. He’s ready to go.”
While pleased with Taylor’s progress, Watt said the club would continue to provide support, and pleaded for patience from those within rugby league.
“Just be patient with him,” Watt urged.
“I see in the AFL there have been a couple of players take time away from the game and they are subjected to enormous pressure.
“The eyes of the world are very much upon them and sometimes when other things aren’t going right in your life the weight of those expectations is magnified.
Titans v Storm - Round 18
“Just remember that he’s a very decent young man who is giving his best for this club and for this game of ours.
“We’ll maintain that level of support around Ash. We want the best for him as an individual and as a player and he knows we’re there in the fight with him.”
Club legend Preston Campbell reached out to Taylor upon his return to training a month ago and praised the 24-year-old for having the courage to put his hand up during a difficult time.
"It's admirable that he's put his hand up; the concern is that he got to that place in the first place,” Campbell told NRL.com.
"It's not something he's going to be able to get through alone.
"I've reached out to him but I also understand that there are a lot of people around him as well.
"There'll be a bit of noise but I'll just keep reaching out to him. When he's ready he knows that I'm more than happy to support him however I can.
"It might just be a catch up over a cup of tea, it doesn't have to be anything more than that sometimes.”
Titans captain Ryan James, who is overseas on a holiday after knee surgery, has no doubt once Taylor is in a happier place personally that he will display the type of talent again that had him touted as one of the game’s brightest prospects.
"I was proud of him, that he put his hand up and said that he needed to take time away,” James told NRL.com.
"It takes a bigger man to say that you need help than it does to sit back and ponder on all the things that happen around you.
"People can sit on the sidelines and say this and that about him but I'm really proud of him as a person and a player that he was able to do that.
"He's going to get a lot of media attention and it doesn't help when people in the media are smashing him from every angle. They don't know and haven't asked the player what mindset he's in.
"He's still working on it and seeing the way he's worked on himself he's definitely changed the last couple of weeks.
“As soon as he gets himself right I'm sure he'll be out there playing great footy.
"We all know the player he can be and once he finds that and gets back to where he needs to be he'll be fine.”
The NRL State of Mind program aims to increase mental health literacy, reduce the stigma around mental illness, start positive conversations and increase awareness.