Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Taylor sparkling on his way out

Elijah Taylor of the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images
Elijah Taylor of the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images

Elijah Taylor was always going to leave a hole at the Warriors - but now it feels like a gaping one.

In recent weeks, Taylor has hit rare form. Finally given a chance in his ideal position of lock forward, the 22-year-old was strong against Newcastle, better versus the Broncos and superb against Manly. Across those three games, he averaged more than 78 minutes on the field, 60 running metres and over 43 tackles. He has also contributed three line breaks and two tries.

Taylor, at present, looks a slightly better option at lock than high-profile Storm import Todd Lowrie. He is just as good on defence, has a better passing game and is more dangerous with the ball in hand. He is also younger.

Taylor's value was epitomised in the crucial Knights victory. Late in the match, Taylor was clever enough to run a perfect line off Shaun Johnson's pass and score the match-sealing try in the 73rd minute.

It creates a selection conundrum for coach Matt Elliott. Lowrie is hard to leave out but, if Elliott sticks to his mantra of picking on form, Taylor has to retain the No13 jersey.

The Warriors recruited Lowrie as a Micheal Luck prototype. But maybe they had a better option on their doorstep, though it was hard to see; Taylor, like most in the squad, struggled to shine last year. He had been captain of the under-20s, identified as a natural leader from a young age and there was an expectation that he would be a Warrior for life.

Taylor also has the right stuff off the field. While some of his team-mates seemed to give up towards the end of 2012, Taylor kept putting effort in. He is known for his relentless attitude to training. Taylor also works well with sponsors and the media and is a good mentor for the younger players within the club.

To outsiders, his departure is hard to understand. However, Taylor had been close to Ivan Cleary and Penrith were one of four or five Australian clubs that showed interest in him.

In the end, the offer from Australia was apparently too good to refuse. It is believed that Taylor will earn at least four times more in West Sydney that what he was banking in his previous Warriors contract, admittedly signed when he was a junior. Once Taylor was in the sights of Penrith general manager Phil Gould - after being directed by Cleary - it was almost inevitable. "When Gus Gould wants something, he gets it," said one Australian source.

The Panthers think they are on the path to long-term excellence. Cleary's overhaul of the club is well under way, while construction of a centre of excellence, costing in the hundreds of millions, is set to be completed next year. It is being funded by a variety of government and regional stakeholders and will be used by other codes but the Panthers will be principal tenants.

Taylor will have a variety of roles off the field at Penrith, centred around development, as the club hopes to capitalise on league's huge junior base in the area and fend off the increasing competition from football and AFL.

"The opportunity that was in the Penrith deal was something that I wanted to be a part of," Taylor told the Herald on Sunday. "Ivan's trying to start a new culture there - and I think you can slowly see from their results what they are trying to achieve - and Ivan and Gus have recruited me to instil that culture. "When I made the decision there were a lot of sleepless nights. I spoke to a lot of former players and even current Kiwis and they told me that sometimes being away from your comfort zone can bring the best out in you. I've been here [at Mt Smart] since I was 15 years old."

- Herald on Sunday

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