It’s no slight on the talent of Zeb Taia that there would have been few NRL fans who leapt in expectation when the Titans announced his signing last year from Catalans Dragons in what ended as a swap with Dave Taylor.
The 31-year-old had been out of sight, out of mind for most Australian fans since he played 23 game for Newcastle in 2012 (14 off the bench) after a neck injury threatened to end his career after making his Test debut for New Zealand in 2010.
Yet he knows he was improving, and probably refining, his attacking game during three seasons in the Super League which saw him selected in last year’s Dream Team, their equivalent of a Dally M in their position.
Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss mentioned in commentary last Saturday while Taia put in yet another top-class performance for the Titans that he was not only the team’s top try-scorer with five, but had crossed more than any other forward in the competition.
But it was recognition within the dressing room after the match from his teammates, which typifies the contribution Taia has made this season, that meant more to the tall, footy-smart forward.
As part of a strong relationship the team has forged with Kokoda Barracks at Canungra, and especially the physical training instructors, an award has been struck for the annual Anzac round clash and given to the player who most displayed the fighting team-orientated values that have been established by the team and were reinforced at last year’s pre-season camp at Canungra.
Taia took away with him a plaque which he says means a lot to him.
“It was a real honour to win the award; it would have been better if we got the two points too,” Taia said.
“I just want to play my role for the team as a senior player and I’m enjoying the responsibility and giving some input into what we’re trying to achieve.”
What the team is trying to achieve it to put in effort for the entirety of matches and be the team that “will never go away” no matter what the score and match situation.
That attitude has captured the imagination of many this season but the players know that’s not enough.
They have to develop also the ability to win the tight matches and to develop understanding and communication between them that will minimise the defensive errors that have led to the odd tries that have stood between them being a respected opponent just outside of the top eight and a team sitting in the top six.
“It’s an execution thing and finding the energy at the right times,” Taia explained. “There were times against the Bulldogs when we could have worked harder to get possession at the right end of the field but we didn’t do that but we know that’s where we have to improve.
“We have been competing in every game this year but we need to start winning those tight ones, we have lost four in a row and all have been tight, but that one hurt the most. They are a good side and we played them away.”
But the one-point loss to the Bulldogs was just another experience, and another lesson along the way, that the Titans will take into the rematch with the Storm tomorrow.
How they ended with match with their best period of attacking defensive line-speed and aggression in first contact in the tackle, when they dominated the Canterbury pack that rolled forward effectively right through the first half, is a benchmark they want to replicate earlier in matches.
“I thought in the second half we got our line speed up and got in front of their big guys to stop their momentum, we shut them down really well, although the first half we were waiting too much for their big guys to run at us,” Taia said..
“There was a moment in the second half and we had a lot of line speed and were getting up in their faces and stopping their momentum, we have to start off like that which we have spoken about this week. And it’s one thing we want to put to work against the Storm.
“If we can take the last 10 minutes against the Bulldogs into the first 10 minutes of the Storm game and it will definitely give us a better chance of winning.”
And it is a given that Taia’s effort, his voice encouraging others and his good attacking lines on the left edge being a regular threat to the defence, will be an important piece of that plan.
If he picks up another try … well it will get a mention by the commentary team, but be a consolation to the other things Zeb Taia wants to achieve as a valued member of the team that no longer flies under the radar.