IN HIS regular conversations with Dave Taylor over the past few days, since he was cut by Queensland, South Sydney coach Michael Maguire knew his star player understood how best to respond.
The answer wasn't to sulk or spill his guts, it was to produce a performance that may make coach Mal Meninga wonder whether he has make the right call.
Taylor's performance yesterday against Penrith, with one try, an assist and a crucial try save, amid peripheral destruction, will have Meninga pondering a few things this morning. ''Dave responded very well,'' Maguire said. ''For him to come back and perform like that … I spoke to Dave quite a number of times over the last couple of days. He understands with selections and being a player, everyone's looking at your performance.
''He knew if he came back and just played the way he did, that's the best way to respond. It was great to see him come in and do that for the team.''
Having played the first two matches of the Origin series, Taylor was axed on Friday, in favour of Brisbane's Ben Te'o, who ironically will be effectively replacing the Gold Coast-bound Taylor at Souths next year. His performance yesterday also coincided with speculation that Taylor was dealing with a ''personal issue''.
Clearly he was charged for a powerful performance. Maguire could only admit that Taylor's axing had been to ''our benefit''. Asked what he spoke to Taylor about, the coach said: ''The fact he's 23 and hopefully over the next 10 years he's going to be in that arena for a long, long time.
''You learn a lot from the setbacks that he faced in that last Origin and I'm sure he's going to bounce back. Dave's really keen to keep performing and learning about the game. He's got a lot of footy in front of him and I'm sure there's going to be plenty more opportunities in Origin. Everyone looks at him, the size of him … he's a machine.''
He destroyed the Panthers in patches yesterday. Every time the Rabbitohs hit Taylor he took some stopping. And there were times when the Panthers couldn't stop him.
He scored the first try and set up their next with a barge and an offload that allowed Dylan Farrell and Andrew Everingham to produce a neat one-two before the former sent Nathan Merritt over.
In the second half, Taylor saved his team when he hit Panthers winger Josh Mansour as he was stretching for the corner, forcing the ball loose. Then just minutes later, his cut-out pass put Everingham over.
''I said to him that he didn't have to go out and prove a point and have 30 runs and do 50-odd tackles,'' Souths co-captain Michael Crocker said. ''He just had to come back and do what he's been doing the last four weeks. That's why he was in the Origin frame to start with because he was playing excellent football. Every touch he had today was quality and he came up with some big plays.''
The former Maroons hardman couldn't help but concede the Blues would be happy not to be facing Taylor on Wednesday night. ''I wouldn't want him running at me,'' he said.
''He's one of those players who can come up with any play. Every time he runs the ball he's beating one or two players. I know Ben Te'o's going to do an excellent job but I thought Dave deserved the opportunity.''
English forward Sam Burgess echoed those thoughts. ''There's a lot of disappointment for him, but I'm sure he'll get back there,'' Burgess said. ''It's just a little hurdle for him. I'm really proud of him, the way he performed. Dave's a special player. People forget he's only 23.''
SOUTH SYDNEY 38 (N Merritt 2 N Peats 2 A Everingham D Taylor tries A Reynolds 7 goals) bt PENRITH 12 (L Coote C Newton tries L Coote 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Steve Lyons, Gerard Sutton. Crowd: 13,096.