In the space of a year, Elijah Taylor has gone from fresh-faced first-grader to certain starter in a Warriors side that has no shortage of playing depth. Aaron Lawton finds out what makes the 22-year-old tick.
Before we get any further – Elijah Taylor will not be playing for the Melbourne Storm next year.
For weeks, a rumour has floated about the Auckland league scene linking the talented two-test Kiwi to the competition frontrunners for next year.
Generally, when a team like the Storm want you, you go.
But with another year to run on his contract at Mt Smart Stadium, Taylor couldn't leave the Warriors' clutches, even if he wanted to.
And, just for the record, he has no plans to leave Auckland.
"I'm very happy here," Taylor says. "I'm enjoying the new coach and enjoying the camaraderie within the team. It's a one-of-a-kind sort of place.
"I was talking to [former Auckland Vulcan] Matt Robinson after the Penrith game and he said it's just not the same there at training.
"There's no Manu Vatuvei cracking jokes and it's all so serious.
"I feel privileged to be here and I'm very honoured to be a part of this club."
For what it's worth, rather than cast his eye further afield when he comes off contract at the end of next year, Taylor is more interested in signing a long-term deal with the Warriors.
"That's what the manager is working on at the moment. Hopefully, I get to stay here," he says.
"But, yes, as of right now, I'm contracted until the end of next year."
When asked about the rumours linking him to Melbourne, Taylor – not one who never appears to be short of a nice soundbite – pauses for a second, before directing the query to his manager.
"It's just a rumour," he says. "At the moment, the Warriors are my only focus for this year and next year and I'd love to stay here for a long time."
Manager Ian Miles comfortably deflects the suggestions, saying if there is interest in Taylor from across the Ditch, it's futile.
"We might be on their map, but they haven't made any overtures yet," he says. "He's at the Warriors until the end of 2013. He's happy with that and I know the Warriors are happy with that. End of story, really."
Regardless of the state of negotiations to extend Taylor's stay in Auckland, there's no doubting that, if the Warriors want to keep him, they'll have to upgrade his pay packet.
The final year of Taylor's contract, 2013, was an option in the club's favour, and given the deal was penned long before he flourished as a first-grader, it's unlikely he's earning the sort of money Sonny Bill Williams would get out of bed for.
Still, as much as he's developed as a player since making his first-grade debut in round four last year, Taylor remains his own harshest critic.
"There are always things to work on. I've said it before, but on attack I know I have to offer a lot more than what I am," he says.
"I'm not doing enough on attack because I'm working a lot harder defensively.
"I just need to improve more in that area and give the boys a decent option so that if they do hit me, I can do something with the football."
That mentality, that desperation to improve with each passing week has been, Taylor admits, both a blessing and a curse during his short career.
Last year, he hardly slept in the buildup to games, and while he was "living the dream" his anxiety meant he had very few of them.
"A lot of people would ask me last year about how much I was enjoying my football," Taylor says.
"I'd sit there, think about it and then have to admit that I wasn't really enjoying it.
"It's hard and, yes, I like winning but this is a tough gig, rugby league, and it's very demanding on your body.
"I'd worry that if I wasn't on my game, I'd be made to look silly out on the field and I know the job's never done."
With an increasing maturity, the backrower's brutal self assessments have softened somewhat this year.
Heading into today's clash against the North Queensland Cowboys in Auckland, Taylor has played all 14 matches in the starting side and finally concedes he's pleased with how he's going.
It all stems back, he says, to actually taking the time to enjoy doing what it is he does for a living.
"I'm enjoying my footy this year," Taylor says.
"I've worked on smelling the flowers a bit more and really learning to chill out and enjoy the company within the team.
"A lot of the boys have said I'm too hard on myself but I've got some high standards that I always want to perform to.
"I think it's the only way to be, the only way to get better anyway."
If he continues to improve at the rate he's been going, the Warriors might want to get out the cheque book or the Storm, amongst others, might come sniffing around again.
- Sunday Star Times