Ash Taylor wants to be the next Johnathan Thurston which is exactly why Gold Coast coach Garth Brennan insists Saturday night’s clash with North Queensland will bring out the best in his star half.
Brennan has told the 23-year-old playmaker the Titans is his team and that he wants him to own it, control it and dominate.
Taylor has been front and centre of all three of their wins over the Raiders, Broncos and the Sea Eagles but against the desperate Cowboys he will line up against his idol who is also seeking to get back to the kind of form that has led to him winning a record-breaking four Dally M medals.
"Johnathan Thurston is the best player I have ever seen in my lifetime so it will be good for Ash to challenge himself against JT and I know he will embrace it,” Brennan told NRL.com.
"Ash wants to challenge himself against the best and Thurston is the best. He wants to emulate him and one day achieve some of the things JT has achieved."
Taylor recognised in the pre-season he had to be fitter in order to match Thurston’s trademark quality of always being where the ball is. It was an area of his own game where he let himself down in 2017. Brennan said Taylor had backed up his words with action on the training paddock.
"(Assistant coach) Craig Hodges was here last year and even he comments on how Ash is a different player this year,” Brennan said.
"He’s the fittest he’s ever been. He competes on everything and he wants to be a leader.”
Brennan said after the 35-12 loss to Penrith that Taylor may have been disappointed in his own game. The best and worst games of great players are not that far apart but Brennan said the inconsistency in Taylor's performances was not an issue at this stage of his career.
"That comes with youth," he said.
"Once he’s got 100 first-grade games under his belt as a first-grade halfback you’d expect him to get some consistency but he’s only got 52.
"You are going to get some inconsistency in a young kid but I don’t think he’s been horrible.
"He was very good against the Raiders in round one and exceptional against the Broncos. I don’t think he was poor against Penrith, but can he be better? Absolutely he can but I don’t blame Ash for that loss."
Ryan James comes back into the side for the Cowboys clash after suspension while Brennan said hooker Nathan Peats and Dale Copley would be out.
"Peats won’t play,” Brennan said.
"He’s got a fracture to his rib and the timeframe is unknown. It could be one week and it could be six weeks.
"It is how about how it is going to respond with the healing and pain side of things but Peatsy is pretty tough so I don’t imagine it will be long.
"Copley has a hamstring strain so he might be one or two weeks."