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Taylor plots his path to greatness

By Tony Webeck ‌, Chief Queensland Correspondent , NRL.com

He has shrugged aside any sense of the dreaded second-year syndrome but talented Titans half Ashley Taylor knows he still has a long way to go before he can stand alongside the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk in the realms of the NRL's elite playmakers.

Despite the difficulties the Titans have faced in the opening three weeks of the season Taylor has been a beacon of brilliance, almost single-handedly engineering an unlikely win against Newcastle in Round 2 and then closing the deal against the Eels on Friday night.

Showing an affinity for producing the right play at the right time with each game that he plays, Taylor celebrated his 22nd birthday by delivering a superb cut-out pass prior to Tyler Cornish's try just before half-time and then sparking Gold Coast's two second-half tries with clever kicks close to the Parramatta try-line.

With three try assists through three rounds he is the only Titans players with multiple try assists and continues to monitor closely the exploits of Thurston and Cronk so that he may one day join their ilk.

He has studied Cronk via video and was given a priceless education on Thurston's mastery by spending a week with the North Queensland half during Indigenous All Stars camp and desperately wants to influence the Titans as they do the Storm and Cowboys respectively.

His progression will get its most thorough examination when the Titans host Thurston's Cowboys at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday night where Taylor can again put into practice what Thurston taught him in February.

"That's where I want to get to. Obviously I'm not there yet, I'm only new to the NRL so hopefully one day I can get to that," Taylor said of having an impact on a game the way Cronk and Thurston do.

"That's the long-term goal for me to get there but in the short term I just want to keep working on my game and making sure that I get my prep right and the boys are on their game as well.

"I'm just getting more experience now and starting to learn more of what to do and when to do it.

"Obviously learning off the best in the game in JT, Cooper Cronk, they do it very good and that's what I want to do. I want to be one of those players so I've got to keep learning each week."

With Kane Elgey admitting last week that he is fighting to regain the confidence he showed in his entry to the NRL two years ago, Taylor has taken it upon himself to provide the direction the team needs, something coach Neil Henry believes is getting better each and every week.

"I thought Ash Taylor's kicking game was fantastic," Henry said.

"He'll have a crack at the 40/20, he put the ball to the sideline when we needed a walk to a scrum and I think his game management is getting there as a young player.

"We need him to pull off those plays."

Coming through the junior ranks it was Taylor's acceleration and kicking game that set him apart from other young playmakers.

Both of those aspects of his game were affected towards the end of his rookie season last year but off-season groin surgery has enabled him to physically get the most out of himself.

"Towards the back-end of last year I couldn't really do much kicking at training and I couldn't do much in a game, it was more on Tyrone [Roberts]," Taylor said.

"This year after the groin surgery I can get through the game a lot better and I can kick the ball more freely and I just feel more free out on the field.

"Everyone has their different style of kicking. Obviously Cooper Cronk has a more AFL-style where he's straight to where he's kicking where JT can be versatile, kick off his left foot, kick left, kick right.

"It's just a matter of how you strike the ball and making sure that you keep landing them on the money.

"My goal is to bring the line up and put in a kick in behind and put a lot more pressure on them which I haven't done recently.

"I want to try and get my kicking game up there as one of the best and that's what it involves, taking the line on and putting the late kick in."

This article first appeared on NRL.com