Reaching 100 NRL games is the milestone Gold Coast five-eighth Ash Taylor admits he didn’t think would ever happen.
From halfback prospect to outcast million-dollar man and then a rebirth as a No.6 last year, Taylor’s journey to his 100th first-grade game has been far from smooth.
Poached by the Titans from Brisbane before the 2016 campaign, Taylor was further thrust into the NRL spotlight when he signed a contract extension worth a reported $1 million per season.
The scrutiny that came with that deal and the Titans’ on-field struggles proved too much, and in 2019 it all came to a head when depression took hold and Taylor all but walked out on the game.
“When I took that time off I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Taylor said.
“I didn’t think I was going to be back, so to come back now and to be in the mind frame I am now it’s very exciting for me, my family, my teammates, this club.
“It means a lot to me.”
Becoming a father to son Oscar during his time away changed Taylor’s life, altering his focus and allowing him to escape the pressure that his status as the Titans’ key man had brought.
Justin Holbrook’s decision to bring Jamal Fogarty in as starting halfback and move Taylor to five-eighth also proved a masterstroke last year, taking the responsibility off the 25-year-old’s shoulders and allowing him to play a more free, instinctive game.
“I love my role now,” Taylor said.
“In previous years it’s been tough, but now we’ve got Jamal steering the ship and me just playing my role in the team.
“If I own that it makes everyone else’s role in the team easier.”
As well as a big year for the Titans, with many tipping the club to make a real impact in 2021, it’s also the final months of that contract which has so often hung like a millstone around Taylor’s neck.
Having already nearly called time on his NRL career, worrying about his playing future is something Taylor said he’s learned not to focus on.
“If you’re worried about the now the future will look after itself,” he said.
“I’ve really learned that over my last six years at this club.”