An Intrust Super Cup finals campaign with Tweed Heads shapes as the crucial next step in Titans star Ash Taylor rediscovering a love for the game and the desire required to fulfil his immense promise.
Little more than 12 hours after the worst NRL campaign in Titans’ history comes to a close on Saturday night, Taylor will run out for Tweed Seagulls in their elimination final against a red-hot Redcliffe outfit at Piggabeen Sports Complex from 11.40am.
The crowd will be larger, the intensity of the contest greater and for the first time since his ill-fated return against the Roosters in round 20 Taylor will feature live on Fox Sports.
An ankle injury prevented the 24-year-old from taking his place for the Seagulls in their 12-10 win over the Northern Pride last Saturday but Titans medical staff remain confident he will be available for Tweed’s do-or-die finals clash on Sunday.
The 58-6 loss to the Roosters is Taylor’s only NRL appearance since taking time away to address personal issues following the round 12 loss to the Cowboys and Tweed coach Ben Woolf hopes a lengthy finals campaign will further aid Taylor’s return to the top grade in 2020.
"If we do well and he does well on the back of that, then he has an off-season to freshen up and I think he’ll be all right," Woolf told NRL.com.
"It’s just a matter of being motivated, which I think he will be.
"Hopefully this period will be a good learning curve for him and sparks him to reach the level we believe he is capable of.
"He’s really important for us at this time of year. We play the halfback in quite a dominant role playing both sides of the field and he plays that role for us when he’s playing.
“He’s obviously a highly-talented player so he creates a lot of opportunities for us and his kicking game is very good as well. If he’s fit and available he’s a very important part of our team.”
Titans senior coach Craig Hodges has an association with Taylor stretching back to their time together with the Brisbane Broncos under-20s and has been encouraged by what he has seen in recent weeks.
Although he can at times appear disengaged and unmotivated during Titans training sessions, Hodges says there had been enough positive signs to believe Taylor would return for pre-season training under new coach Justin Holbrook in the right frame of mind.
"The best part is that he looks like he's really starting to enjoy it," Hodges said of Taylor’s time with Tweed.
"There's a smile on his face. I just walked past him in the pool where he was doing some rehab and he's chirpy and sledging and cheeky like all halfbacks should.
"That hasn't been around for a while so it's good to see that stuff coming back.
"That's a big step in the right direction. With Tweed qualifying for the finals there's now a little bit more on the line. That's what competitive players love playing in.
"From Ash's point of view, if he can enjoy that extra game time, enjoy those clutch moments in games, they're all great experiences for him.
"He hasn't forgotten how to play, that's not an issue. He just needs to fall back in love with it."
Taylor’s first game for Tweed this year was in the outback town of Ilfracombe, as far removed from the NRL spotlight as you could imagine.
Ever since that 28-12 win over the Capras, Woolf says Taylor has been a positive contributor to what the team has been trying to achieve.
"It’s taken us a little bit of time to get used to him as a first receiver because he plays on the ball for us but in the last two games he’s played we scored 38 and 42 points and that was due to a lot of his ball-playing on the inside.
"He’s enjoying his footy. He enjoys being around the group so I think it’s definitely been good for him.
"I was a bit worried about him after the Roosters game but we went up to Ipswich in a must-win and he had a good game up there so his effort’s been good for us every week."
In the other Intrust Super Cup elimination final Norths Devils face Easts Tigers while in the qualifying finals Sunshine Coast host Townsville and Wynnum Manly are at home to Burleigh.