Titans halfback Ash Taylor has lost six kilos in the off-season in his quest to win a Queensland jersey after identifying excess weight and a lack of peak fitness was preventing him reaching his potential.
The streamlined 23-year-old Titan spoke to NRL.com in camp with the Emerging Maroons squad on the Sunshine Coast on Saturday where the results of three months of hard yakka were plain to see.
"This is the best I have been since playing in the NRL. I am down to 87 kilos after I was playing at 93 last year. I set myself a target to play lighter this year and to be stronger and fitter so that is what I have been working on over the off-season," Taylor said.
"Last year I wasn’t in the entire game and there was a 10-minute period that really let me down. The biggest thing is to make sure I am fit and healthy enough to ensure I am playing for that full 80 minutes and not fading out of games.
"To make this Queensland team you have to sacrifice some things off the field to make sure you are in the best shape you can be."
Taylor’s progress has come on the back of a change in mentality, a revamped diet and extra training sessions under the guidance of new Titans head of performance Dan Ferris.
"It is about really wanting to do it. I think last year I didn’t think as much about my body as I am now,” Taylor said.
"It started with my diet and cutting down the unnecessary carbs. Dan Ferris has had a massive impact on me this year. We’ve done a lot of extra sessions before training at six o’clock every morning with off-feet cardio work on the bike, rower or skier.
"You get a few injuries and you think ‘it will be alright’ but this year I am looking after all my bumps and bruises and preparing like I am getting ready for a game each time I go to training."
Taylor had a season of two halves in 2018. After his first 14 games he had 16 try assists to his credit but added just one more in the final 10 rounds.
He can pinpoint where and why it all went south. Taylor was close to being given his Maroons debut in game three of last year’s Holden State of Origin series but coach Kevin Walters ultimately went with Daly Cherry-Evans.
The Gold Coast playmaker wanted that jersey dearly and conceded missing out affected the way he played from then on. He has learned a valuable lesson from the experience.
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"Garth [Brennan] and Kevvie didn’t really tell me I was in the mix until after the team was named. They both pulled me aside and told me to keep my head up after Cherry was given the opportunity," Taylor said.
"I was really disappointed about not making the team and I started playing not consistent footy for the Titans. The biggest thing I learned is not to let it get into your mind, but being young you can’t help it because growing up that is your dream, to pull on that Queensland jumper.
"In saying that I need to just worry about my footy and my team and make sure I am playing good footy at the Titans so that if that opportunity does arise I can make sure I take it. To prove I belong in that Origin arena I need to be better, and to play consistent footy all the time."