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How playground visit confirmed end of once brilliant career

An emotional Ash Taylor told Warriors team-mates he knew his career was finished when worsening osteoarthritis pain in his hip prevented him from playing with his children, Oscar and Hazel, the day after his only NRL appearance for the club.

Taylor confirmed his retirement on Tuesday and now plans to move to Toowoomba with his family and put to use the teacher’s aide qualifications he recently obtained, while considering a coaching role at grassroots level to determine if that’s an area in the game he wants to pursue.

The prospect of a hip replacement is a sad and unexpected end to a once dazzling career in which Taylor was touted as the game’s next superstar playmaker and earned up to $1 million per season with the Titans.

The 27-year-old had believed he had another six seasons left in him when he joined the Warriors on a train-and-trial deal from the Titans but he was on a restricted training program and required anti-inflammatory drugs to cope with the nagging hip problem.

Ash Taylor catches up with former Titans team-mates after what was to be his final NRL game
Ash Taylor catches up with former Titans team-mates after what was to be his final NRL game ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

After making his debut for the Warriors in the round two clash with the Titans, he was in so much pain he could hardly stand up and three specialists all gave him the same advice.

“I got three different opinions and the more recent one hit home the most when he said there were no statistics about a comeback after the surgery - and he didn’t recommend me getting the surgery because I couldn’t compete at NRL level again,” Taylor said.

“In the position I play you have got to be elusive, you have got to have a step, you have got to be able to kick and you’ve got to run a fair amount of kilometres. It’s not just what you do on the field, you have got to train as well.

“In their opinions I would never be able to play at a high level again.”

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It wasn’t what Taylor wanted to hear but he had feared the worst since the match against his former club.

“It was tough, and I tried to kick on as long as I could, but it just came to a time when I had to do something because it was affecting me away from footy as well,” Taylor said.

“General soreness after a game is a thing, but what I was feeling was a whole new level that I haven’t felt before.

“Going to the park the next day, I couldn’t stand up to play with my children. I was in pain and was gradually declining.

“I thought I could go on for another six years until recently. That was the hardest thing with the osteoarthritis – the progression of it. It just accelerated pretty fast, and I just couldn’t maintain an elite level training and playing.

“Right now, my hips are okay walking and my hips are okay hugging my kids, and they were the two main factors I wanted to be right. If it was any worse then I would have gone down the hip replacement side of things and look at a full hip replacement.”

Ash Taylor in happier times at the Titans
Ash Taylor in happier times at the Titans ©NRL Photos

Taylor is determined to avoid a hip replacement if possible and is thankful that doubts over his future at the Titans in recent seasons encouraged him to complete his teacher’s aide qualifications.

However, he advised NRL players to get another career behind them while they are young so they don’t have the same concerns about their futures he has faced.

“There has been some happy times and recent tough times but I wouldn’t be the man I am today without those times,” Taylor said of his career. “It’s been a rollercoaster but it has come to an end and I have just got to move in with the rest of my life.

“Now it is time for me and my family to get settled back in Toowoomba. Me and my partner are getting prepared to be back in the workforce and my kids will start getting ready for school.

“I thought footy was going to be my life forever but looking back now I would probably tell a young Ash to look at the education side of things for post career after footy.

“I have almost finished my Cert 4 in Teacher’s Aide, but it has only been finished now. I have had a long time to do that but I just kept putting it off because I thought I had footy for years.

“You see blokes now in the NRL completing degrees, whether that be in the business side or management side or construction or anything, and as a man now I would pursue that because you never know when your time is up.”

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The former star playmaker, who said he had never experienced a club as culturally connected as the Warriors, is interested in coaching and also continuing to work in the Indigenous community.

“I have been trying to do part-time work with the Indigenous team in the Darling Downs area, trying to promote the COVID vaccination at the time and at the moment the ‘flu vaccine,” he said.

“Any programs they have coming up I want to be a part of it, I want to be a part of the community and I want to be a trusted source for the community if they want to seek help about anything. It might be alcohol, drugs, domestic violence, or anything.

"I want to be a helping hand to the community and to be known as someone who will help them get the help they need to be a better person.”

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The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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