Warriors utility Elijah Taylor figures he might as well learn off the best if he is to be a success which is why he has been poring over videos of Cameron Smith over the past fortnight.
Taylor was seen as a natural replacement for Micheal Luck, who retired at the end of last season, and still sees his long-term future as a backrower but is getting his head around playing hooker with Nathan Friend sidelined until April as he nurses a shoulder injury.
The 22-year-old has been named to start at hooker in Saturday's pre-season match against Penrith in Hamilton and Warriors coach Matt Elliott has supreme confidence Taylor will turn into a quality rake. Elliott had planned to use Taylor at dummy-half in bursts this season anyway to take some of the load off Friend but those plans have deepened following Friend's surgery to repair nerve damage in the shoulder that blighted his season last year.
Taylor has filled in at hooker before with limited success, especially around his ball distribution, but had few reservations about tackling the position when asked. It's in his nature to throw himself into any new challenge, which is where Smith came in.
"I have been studying Cameron Smith like a hawk for the last two weeks," Taylor said. "If I am going to go at it, then I want to learn from the best and give the Warriors everything I have."
He's made a number of "freaky" findings, like the fact Smith always seems to know where the ball is going to end up and is never involved in a kick-chase unless a try or repeat set is on and rarely hustles out of a scrum to save energy.
"I'm really excited and I am learning a lot about playing hooker. It's key role in the team with a lot of responsibilities, especially in attack. I have learned that the hard way sometimes but that's often the best way to learn. It's a massive challenge but anything to get a jersey, especially with how much depth and talent we have in the squad."
Alehana Mara and Pita Godinet are both options to play at hooker and are in the extended squad to play Penrith on Saturday, and five-eighth Thomas Leuluai has extensive experience at dummy-half, but Elliott is convinced Taylor can make the step up.
"[His ball distribution] is the one question mark I might have had about him," Elliott said. "The reason Elijah masters stuff is that he practices it and he's just put that much time into it he's covered that territory really quickly. We will see how he goes once he gets whacked a round a little bit and punched in the face - that's always the big test - but I am supremely confident that he will not only rise to the challenge but master it and be a very, very good hooker."
Elliott will field close to his strongest side against Penrith, although Sam and Steve Rapira (niggles), Russell Packer (bicep), Todd Lowrie (bereavement leave) and Jerome Ropati (knee) won't feature.
The Warriors play Brisbane in Dunedin next weekend in their final pre-season match before trying to arrest a club record eight-game losing streak against Parrammatta in Sydney on March 9.
- APNZBy Michael Brown Email Michael