On Sunday August 14, 2011 is the only time I remember being terrified for the players in a rugby league game.
On that day I sat in Bay 72 of Bruce Stadium. It was the same spot me and Rob sat for uncountable years while we both were living in God’s big country town. The sinking winter sun would get in your eyes, and the two o’clock start for this game meant that by the end of the game sunlight would shine directly at us.
That day our beloved Green Machine were battling the Bunnies. I never minded the Bunnies or their fans. Something about them being kicked out of the competition had always led me to have a bit of sympathy. For a time our mutual also-ran status always made it seem like they were a bit of a partner in disaster.
But in recent years a few acquisitions had moved the Bunnies from fractured to frightening. Greg Inglis had made his way north (though not as far as reports had suggested). Joining Inglis and John Sutton on the left edge in 2010 was Dave Taylor.
Enigmatic is a word that was invented for Taylor. The guy joined the Broncos while still at school. He could and did eat more than suburbs of people. He was 130kg and had a six pack…most of the time. He had all the skill of a natural seven and the attention span of a seven year old.
The Coal Train joining Inglis and Sutton on the Bunnies left made that side of the field massive and terrifying. It was a stampede of talent. It could run around you, and did a lot. But more than anything it threatened to run through you.
Central to that threat was Dave Taylor. Anytime the Rabbitohs got close to the line he loomed beside Sutton with all the subtlety of a spandex covered WWE superstar. He was there, and if you were Joel Thompson, or Danny Galea, or whoever else sacrificed their bodies to try and stop it, he was damn frightening.
On that day the Bunnies thumped the Raiders 47-12, only Taylor never had the impact that I feared. He didn’t score, and my vague memory of the game was that my terror was never matched by his output.
That was always the dig at Taylor. It all came so easy and what did he do with it? His resume is actually a pretty good. Eight origins when Queensland was at its peak, and an Australian appearance. The Broncos won the premiership his first year in the league (though he wasn’t in the grand final side). Ten plus years at the highest level in the world. It’s a career that any of us would take if offered.
It’s funny how the obvious football that Taylor left on the table frustrates assessments of him. The resume I outlined above is remarkably similar to John “Chicka” Ferguson, and I will fight you if you say a bad word about Chicka.
Sidebar: I’m not joking.
Taylor was a victim of what we hoped for him rather than what he could deliver. Sometimes we forget that trying hard is actually a skill. A worth ethic is developed more than born, but like Taylor’s physical gifts, some get a head start. Natural talent in this regard can often hamper. If you’ve never had to work to get anywhere, how would you know where to start when you get to the top?
When Dave Taylor joined the Canberra Raiders in late 2016 we weren’t sure whether he would make the squad for 2017. He’d been unceremoniously dumped by the Titans in 2015. He’d been charged with cocaine possession mere months before he joined the Raiders. He didn’t have a side, and when Canberra signed him his physique was not at its finest.
Given an opportunity to save his career, Taylor literally worked his arse off over summer, dropping 9 kilograms. It was a stunning reversal of form so to speak. After being the man picked because of potential, because of talent, Taylor was having to prove he could work for it. Canberra didn’t have the extra curricular attractions of bigger cities. The money wasn’t even good – league minimum then was 85k a year, an amount that paled in comparison what he’d earned before, and what he would be offered after.
Even the role he’d been touted to play was more humble – bench middle, expected to come on, give 35 hard working minutes a game taking dirty carries. The lightening and thunder of his edge running brilliance would be swapped for post-contact metres and leg drive. What’s more, the Raiders needed him to be a stable and effective presence off the bench if they wanted to succeed that year. Lofty goals for a guy who Gordon Tallis had claimed was more focused on the life outside football than the on-field game.
Dave Taylor delivered everything the Raiders needed from him that year and more. He became the consistent impact off the bench they desperately needed. He was a reliable forward that could give Paulo and Boyd a spell without losing any of the power. He apparently only played 11 games that season, but he made a huge impact, even winning a game for the Raiders with an brilliant offload try-assist in golden point against the Dragons.
After signing him on bare minimum, the Raiders decided they could no longer afford big Dave. He had come to the club and showed he could earn his way. If the Raiders could have kept him who knows that could have been.
Instead, Taylor signed with the Toronto Wolfpack, and never played a game for them. He was sacked for misconduct without more explanation, leaving people like me to wonder what the hell he did, but more importantly, what changed. Was being the star again the problem for Dave? Was it being away from home? Did he need incentives to focus on footy? Was footy even the reason he was on the field? We can all speculate, and none of us will ever know for sure.
Taylor retired recently. I was sad to see him go, but even sadder to see that all people could talk about was what he wasn’t. I remember what he was. Sometimes it was flashy. For the Raiders it was honest and hardworking. And all the time whenever he had the ball it was damn terrifying.