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Broncos legend Darren Lockyer says Titans half Ash Taylor has historically been “the whipping boy” of the club, but in 2021 the onus will also be on star signings David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui to stand up and take ownership.
The Titans took to 2021 buoyed by their greatest expectations in years off the back of a stellar late run last season, plus a pair of huge off-season acquisitions.
Ahead of Round One, the addition of Fifita and Fa’asuamaleaui had many backing Justin Holbrook’s resurgent squad to do a number over the Warriors who have been forced to relocate for a second year running due to the global pandemic.
But what transpired was a classic tale of what rugby league great Greg Alexander described “failing to live up to all the hype” as the Titans spluttered off the blocks with a 19-6 loss on the Central Coast.
Taylor was less than impressive, failing to find combinations with Fifita and Fa’asuamaleaui, which will be cause for concern if the club are to go one better than last year’s ninth-place finish and qualify for the finals series.
Lockyer said the squad had by-passed the necessary training-ground work of introducing new elements to their game, instead, taking to Round One with the hope it would all magically come together on the park.
QLDER: Can the Broncos turn it around in 2021? – Round 1
“They looked flat,” Lockyer told Wide World of Sports’ QLDER. “Maybe they just all thought they had to turn up and do their jobs and they’d get the win.
“One of the traps you can fall into when you’ve got these big bodies on the outside is that you forget you’ve got to lay the platform first. Sometimes, you can be guilty of playing to your strengths without doing the hard yards first.
“Ash has been the whipping boy there now for a while, but now you’ve got David and Tino who are only young but they’ve come as the big signings, so the pressure will be absorbed across those bigger-name players.”
Lockyer’s observation comes as Immortal Andrew Johns reminded Taylor and halves partner Jamal Fogarty they’re not playing “Under 8s” after they failed to bring Fifita and Fa’asuamaleaui into the game.
“There’s a lot of new combinations there, there could have been some nerves in understanding how each other plays,” Johns told Wide World of Sports’ Immortal Behaviour. “They have to work that out sooner rather than later.
“But they’ve got some strike players there in David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, it’s the job of the halves to create play and create room for these guys.
“What I saw in Round One, they just threw them the ball and said ‘do something’. It’s not Under 8s you just don’t give it to the big kid and make a break.
“It’s the job of the halves, they have to construct some formation or plays or shapes, which give those back-rowers room to move. I didn’t see that.
“That’s not the job of the coach, it’s the job of the halves to understand the strengths of the players around them, how they want the ball and where they want the ball. That’s the challenge for the Titans’ halves. I thought they were poor.”
After storming onto the scene as a junior, Taylor has yet to have a season where he’s lived up to his lofty price tag after signing a $1 million-a-season deal in at the end of the 2017 season.
His fitness has been challenged, as has his appetite for being the go-to man when his side is under pressure.
Johns urged the playmaker to start emulating facets of Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston’s game, with the Queensland legend building a legacy as one of the greatest heart-on-sleeve competitors the game has ever seen.
“We’ve been saying for years, they need more out of Ash Taylor,” Johns said. “He’s like Corey Norman, we can see the talent he’s got, he’s just got to find that grit and competitiveness.
“Go watch some tapes of Johnathan Thurston. (Taylor’s) probably got a bit more skill than JT, but JT just competed in every aspect of the game. That’s what we need off Ash Taylor.
“He’s got the talent, but for whatever reason he’s lost some confidence. Fingers crossed for the Titans and for Ash, I hope he has that breakout year.”
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