Elijah Taylor hopes Panthers profit from signing

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 19/01/2014
Elijah Taylor
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ELIJAH TAYLOR: "I want to help out where I can. It's one of the main reasons they [Penrith Panthers] signed me. It's something I want to do."

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Their playing roles at the NZ Warriors ensured Russell Packer and Elijah Taylor always had a point of difference - and the distinction has proven even more significant since they joined NRL clubs in Australia.

The contrast between the earnest utility and scowling front rower is acute, and best emphasised by their respective Monday mornings on January 6.

As Packer was perplexed to be sentenced to two years in jail for a drunken assault on an expat Kiwi in Sydney's CBD last November, Taylor was suffering in silence during his first fitness session under the Penrith Panthers' notorious trainer Ronnie Palmer.

The former club and Kiwis teammates might have chosen the same career path across the Tasman once they developed as professional footballers at Mt Smart but their arrivals from Auckland illustrate a clear philosophical difference.

Packer, the compulsively tattooed prop infamous for urinating on Suncorp Stadium before kick-off against the Broncos last June, was the first to relocate after the Warriors failed to make last season's finals series.

The 24-year-old, who barely featured during his sixth campaign with the Warriors, had signed a four-year deal with the Newcastle Knights - a career-defining opportunity to reignite his game under the legendary Wayne Bennett.

Yet one of Packer's first instincts was to head south to Sydney and get on the drink in one of the city's entertainment precincts - an expedition that ended with Enoka Time being stomped on the head after being knocked unconscious.

Packer's contract was terminated by the Knights seven days after he was remanded in custody pending an appeal against the severity of his sentence on February 11.

Taylor, meanwhile, is ready to embrace the concept of community service - public relations exercises often regarded as an imposition by young men who prefer sedentary pursuits like Xbox or a more energetic round of golf.

He arrived in Penrith - Sydney's occasionally "wild west" - on a Saturday and had no interest in heading east to the bright lights of the big city.

Instead, fellow former Warrior Matt Robinson gave him a "tiki tour" of the suburb, which basically consisted of a stroll around the Westfield shopping centre.

There's also the McDonald's where Kiwi Alex McEwen was king hit the day Taylor touched down, and across Mulgoa Rd: Centrebet Stadium and the Penrith Paceway, where a flea market runs on Wednesdays.

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Admittedly, Taylor already had a feel for the working class, league heartland, thanks to a couple of clandestine visits when it was apparent Ivan Cleary and Phil Gould wanted him to help mould the club's "culture" - a concept not always apparent in an area boasting one of Sydney's American-styled "Hooters" restaurants.

"It's a nice little community out there. I'm from a small town back in New Zealand [Hawera/Patea/Kaitaia]. I'm used to small towns," Taylor explained to Fairfax Media.

So Sydney's CBD and coastal attractions hold no appeal for Taylor, who experienced enough surf at Coogee when the Warriors based themselves on the eastern suburbs beachfront before games in the city.

The priority, he insists, is to slip into a Panthers' No.13 jersey and not make waves.

Taylor actually had the option to report for duty tomorrow - an extended break was warranted after the Kiwis' failed World Cup campaign - but typical of the 23-year-old, he was keen to hit the gain line as soon as possible.

"I thought I better get in there early and earn the respect from the players.

"You build trust by doing the hard training sessions in the pre-season," he said, revealing a quality that encouraged Cleary and Gould to prise him from the Warriors.

Taylor is not exactly out of his comfort zone - since Cleary relocated from Auckland in late 2011, Penrith's Kiwi contingent has expanded to include Lewis Brown, Dean Whare, Sam McKendry, Sika Manu, Isaac John and Robinson.

"I know them, but I need to know everybody," said Taylor, who included the Holden Cup under-20s personnel that might make the step up in 2014.

"I'll be watching their grand final [against the Junior Warriors] just to understand how they play so I can hopefully complement their game and learn to run off them."

It is that sort of attention to detail that inspired Gould - the Panthers' general manager - to make a play for the 67-game first grader while Taylor's devotion to community work also got the deal over the line.

"I want to help out where I can. It's one of the main reasons they signed me. It's something I want to do," said Taylor, the Warriors' clubman of the year in 2012.

"It's something I like doing as a footy player, giving back. The fans support the team so why can't the players support the fans?"

Taylor was a quiet and respected achiever at the Warriors and could have conceivably played out his career in Penrose, but felt it was time for a new working environment.

"I'd been at the Warriors since I was 15 years old. I'm looking for another challenge, (especially) off the field at Penrith. Helping the community was a big attraction."

So too was reuniting with Cleary, and the feeling was mutual from the coach that facilitated Taylor's NRL debut in 2011.

"I've always been a fan of his football and more than that, his work ethic," Cleary said.

"You can't put desire in people and he's got as much desire as anyone I've ever seen.

"I thought he could help the club not only the way he plays on the field but the way he prepares."

A willingness to do the hard yards in public during his down time was another positive.

"There's a lot of kids with Islander backgrounds out there that haven't necessarily got it that good.

"He's pretty keen to help out there and be a role model. That's very admirable."

- Sunday News

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