Leading his side to the National Rugby Championship (NRC) finals is NSW Country pivot Tayler Adams’ main goal on Saturday, but it’s also another chance for the New Zealand-born stand-off to continue his rapid rise through the ranks as a five-eighth.
Adams, 23, enjoyed a breakout Shute Shield season with West Harbour in 2017, winning the Ken Catchpole Medal for player of the year and then earning a start in the Eagles’ No.10 jersey.
Not bad, considering he’s only worn that number for two years.
“Growing up my favourite player was Dan Carter so I always liked the idea of playing 10 (but) I came to Australia as a [halfback], but in my first year at West Harbour they shifted me to fly-half,” Adams told Rugby News.
“Winning the Catchpole Medal was a massive confidence boost. I used that as a bit of motivation to prove that I’m good enough to play at this level.”
Adams signed with ITM Cup club Southland straight out of high school, played five matches in 2012 and was picked in the New Zealand under 20s squad a year later.
Two seasons and 19 more ITM Cup appearances later, Adams took a chance with the Greater Sydney Rams in 2015, linking with the Pirates as well.
He showed glimpses of his potential as a first five in 2016, then flourished under new West Harbour coach Todd Louden.
“Todd brought a lot to the club this year and for me personally, he was always there offering advice, showing me different ways to play the game,” he said.
“I tried to play a more attacking style this year and take the line on a lot more and I think that suited my style of play and helped me grow in confidence throughout the year.”
West Harbour struggled early on though, but as it hit its straps Adams came into his own, leading the side to seven straight victories at the back end of the regular season. The Pirates finished one point shy of a finals berth.
Like West Harbour, Adams’ Eagles struggled in the opening weeks of the NRC after winning last year’s minor title and ultimately being defeated in the grand final.
But after Adams slotted a conversion after full-time to hand his side a crucial 25-24 victory over Canberra in round three – the Eagles’ first win – the side has worked its way back into the finals equation.
Adams and NSW Country are left needing a win at Endeavour Oval on Saturday over Brisbane, that will ensure them a spot in the post-season.
“Last year was pretty close to a dream season up until the final and this year, things just didn’t click early on,” Adams explained.
“It’s certainly not due to a lack of effort, I just think that at crucial times we [made] costly errors.
“It was a great feeling (to nail that game-winning kick). I really wanted that win and I felt I owed it to the boys because I threw an intercept earlier in the match.
“In those last few minutes, I knew if we scored, I’d need to kick the goal so it was in the back of my mind and I was just really glad that I could help get that win and get our season back on track.”
Adams’ mind is firmly on Saturday’s must-win, final round clash, but he admitted he has allowed himself the chance to look further ahead as well.
“NRC is the focus at the moment … but if I can keep developing, hopefully I can get a crack at the next level,” he said.
“I’ve always wanted to play at the highest level and test myself against the best so I want to push myself to play Super Rugby.
I’d love to call rugby a job and work on my game full-time and I think that’s the only way that I’ll know if I am good enough to play at that level.
“I need to get my body right first though. Super Rugby is a lot more physical and a lot faster so I need to build my strength and improve a few of my key skills.”
Saturday’s final round kicks off at 1pm at Endeavour Oval.