Dave Taylor's gravity-defying regime
The Gold Coast Titans are utilising a revolutionary training technique to get Origin back-rower Dave Taylor into the best condition of his career and alleviate the ongoing calf problems that plagued him in 2014.
There was a sense of irony that as he grappled with lambs, chickens and baby goats in the petting zoo at the Kings Christian College Rugby League Gala Day on Tuesday that most attention was focused on his calf and just how his body will cope with the extra running new coach Neil Henry is prescribing throughout pre-season.
Taylor was kept off his feet and restricted to the altitude chamber at the Centre of Excellence for much of the 2014 pre-season but he was still struck down by three separate calf complaints that punctuated what was individually one of his better years in the NRL.
Taylor's calf complaints are not a sign of weakness in his muscles - his 60 single-leg calf raises are far and way the best in the club - but rather a result of his unique combination of size and agility.
The 123-kilogram man mountain turned up to day one of pre-season already complaining of calf soreness so the club has partnered with Allied Health Performance Medical to utilise their anti-gravity treadmill to reduce the load on Taylor's joints while enabling him to put the necessary work into his legs.
The anti-gravity treadmill can be programmed to reduce the percentage of body weight anywhere between 20-100 per cent so athletes can perform the same aerobic exercise with significantly less strain placed on the muscles and joints.
The Titans are currently using it for players returning from lower leg injuries such as Matt Srama and Kevin Gordon but it is the benefit to Taylor that may reap the richest rewards.
"He's been doing some really good work on the anti-gravity treadmill so I suspect when he comes back to running he won't be too far behind the group, if behind them at all," explained Titans physiotherapist Greg Condon.
"He'll begin running with the squad this week but we'll continue to manage his load and not run him two days in a row, things like that.
"He's actually not a bad runner for a big guy so he's on his toes a lot compared to other guys his size who just run flat-footed.
"He's got the strongest calves in the squad and the best endurance but running how he does at his weight it probably needs to be even better."
As the Titans' preparations for 2015 kicked off two weeks ago Taylor was confined to the dreaded 'hot box' at the club's new training base at The Southport School but said that he was hoping to complete as much of the running component of the pre-season as every other Titans player.
"I'm hoping to be back with the guys as soon as possible and do everything exactly as they're doing," said Taylor, who missed three games towards the end of the year with a recurrence of the injury.
"People say it doesn't matter how much training you do you can never compare it to a game but it's just about getting as much running into your legs as you can, that's the closest thing you can do to getting fit for a game. That's something I want to do, get out and run as much as I can just to be fit for next year.
"It's just that little calf, getting that right. That's the main thing, making sure that it doesn't happen like it did last year where I'd go out and train for a couple of weeks and then it just goes and then out for another two weeks, so just preventing it from doing that, that's going to be the big key.
"It's quite annoying because it's one of those things where you get it good and it's feeling good but it's got a mind of itself and it just goes again.
"I've been working pretty hard in the 'hot box' and really excited to get out there with the boys."
As he spent time spreading the rugby league message to more than 500 schoolchildren, a trim-looking Taylor spoke of his admiration for South Sydney's premiership triumph and the reward that comes with hard work.
Taylor spent one year under Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire in 2012 before joining the Titans and said that the young Gold Coast squad could learn a lot from what South Sydney have managed to achieve.
"I was praying that they got to the grand final all through the semi-finals," said Taylor, who played 63 games for the Rabbitohs between 2010-2012. "I watched them closely and I was really proud of the boys there, they really deserved it.
"I know how hard they've worked just being there for that one year (under Maguire) and just talking to the boys the past couple of years they've put a lot of work in and consistently been in the top three for the last three years.
"Nothing beats hard work and that's exactly what we're doing this year."
And just like playing under Maguire, Taylor emphasised that in his first few weeks in charge Henry has established very early that every position in the squad is up for grabs.
"That's the good thing about Neil, sort of like 'Madge' (Maguire), he doesn't care who you are, he'll drop you," said Taylor. "You've got to put in and earn your spot.
"No one is guaranteed a spot this year with a new coach coming in and things have changed up so you've just got to rip in make sure we guarantee our own spot."