Sam Taylor poses for a photo during Greater Western Sydney's official team photo day on February 13, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

SAM TAYLOR'S ascension to be one of the best key defenders in the AFL hasn't always come easy.

Ahead of his 100th game, the Greater Western Sydney backman chats with Cal Twomey for this week's Cal's Q&A about his recent concussion scare, how he's going to change his style, the 'awful' health battled that threatened to derail his career, his 'Slammer' nickname, contract future and delves into what goes into stopping the best forwards every week.  

We may as well start with the weekend. Did the Swans players mention your 'smug' comments during the loss in the derby?
Not really, there was probably a bit more than that out there. Once they started getting on top of us there was a few comments thrown by some of their players but that's part of it. Besides the loss, that's all good fun.

As soon as you said it last week did you know it would get some attention?
A little bit. I said it in the press conference and then they brought it up again two minutes later and I was like 'Oh no'. I didn't mean for it to come out that way because I've got a lot of respect for the Swans and they're a bloody good team. It is what it is.

It was your first week back from the concussion you suffered against St Kilda which was dramatic. You're so physical and courageous so was there any second guessing that over the weekend?
Honestly, a little bit. You don't want to come back and whack your head first game back so there was a few second guesses but once I started playing and getting some more games I'd hope I'd go back to normal, with that kamikaze [style] but with slightly more respect for my head.

Sam Taylor handballs during Greater Western Sydney's clash against Sydney in round eight, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

How do you temper that?
It is difficult. But the way it happened, you'd never think it would happen like that so just being more careful is the main thing. It's hard to judge though because I'm still going to go back with the flight and still try to take my man out in front of me and do stuff like that but I'll look to make sure there's an arm between my opponent and my head and getting my hands up so I don't get whacked on my chin by their head or my chin by their shoulder. That's what I've taken out of it – getting my arms up and making that a barrier towards hitting my head and to stop from being knocked out. 

It was hard to watch. How nerve-racking did your family find seeing that moment against the Saints?
They were very scared and they freaked out. They were very worried and they wanted to fly over and they did last week just to make sure I was OK. They were watching the game (against the Swans) so in the back of my mind I was thinking 'Don't get concussed in front of them'. It's a bit scary. I didn't really think too much when I was playing beforehand about how much my family and friends care about me when I'm out there. I appreciate all the lovely messages I got. That was nice but I can't do that to them again.


The Giants have lost two of your past three games and face the Bombers this week at Marvel. How do you recapture your best?
It's a tough one. We just need to show up and be a lot tougher and more physical. Against the Swans they were tougher in the contest, they wanted it more and I don't think we had that. If we show up with the right attitude and are relentless and tough then I think we should be good. Our game is very quick and adding that element of being tough and physical hopefully puts us in good stead.

It's your 100th game this week. There was a time in 2020 when playing any more games was in jeopardy when you were diagnosed with septic arthritis. Can you detail that time and how ill you fell?
2020 was very scary. It was early in the season in round four against Collingwood and a day later I started feeling sore in my back and hip. It just kept getting worse and worse and a few days later I was sent to hospital. I was there for two weeks and they had to look after me. I couldn't move, I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't walk. It was a scary time. Once I got out of hospital I had to see a nurse every day for a month to inject antibiotics into me. Then we went to hubs and no one had any idea of when I was coming back. I couldn't see any family and it was a tough time. I didn't really think about footy too much because I just wanted to get back to normal. I wanted to walk again. It was an awful time. I think I'm more resilient from it but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

Sam Taylor handballs during Greater Western Sydney's clash against Collingwood in round four, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

People talk about near death experiences. You lost 10 kilos in a week, were in massive, serious pain. If you had have left it much longer could it have eventuated really, really badly?
Maybe, I probably couldn't leave it longer because I was in so much pain that I had to go to the hospital and get treated. The first night of being there I was in so much pain and they wanted to get blood samples and they just kept coming back for more and more. It was scary and unlucky. There's a few players who have had it recently, like Michael Hurley, and it's scary and painful and it bloody sucked. I spoke to Hurley and gave him a few little tips on things if I had my time again I would have done better. I think he had it slightly worse and he had a few surgeries. I did what I could to help him but you can't really do too much.

You didn't play for the rest of the season. How much were you thinking about football then versus your health?
It took me until January the next year when I started training again, so it took me a good eight months to get to the point I was thinking about footy again more and get back to normal. It took me quite a while to get the hunger to compete and be out there. It had always been there, but wanting to get right and not feel achy in the body was the No.1 for a long time there.

It had been a strong start to your career as well by then but you got through to pick 28 in the 2017 draft. Going back to that time now – why do you think that was?
I thought I would go a bit earlier. I was told I'd be between 20-25 and Richmond or Geelong would pick me up and that didn't happen. I started panicking. It was mainly just an honour to be drafted and it was always a dream to play AFL. I was pretty rapt just to get drafted. I thought I had a pretty good draft year, I played well in (WAFL) league football so I thought I could have been a bit higher but at that time I was young and just wanted to be out there. I wasn't really thinking about how high I could go, I was very naïve and innocent.

Sam Taylor in action during the AFL Draft Combine on October 4, 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

Do you think recruiters understood you and your competitiveness?
I don't think so. Back then I was very competitive, but I was also very shy. Those two years beforehand I jumped into colts and after five weeks of playing colts I did the state under-18s and it was a whirlwind. It was a bit full on.

In 2019, your second year, you played in the Grand Final against Richmond – what was that experience like that early in your career?
Getting drafted to a team that was – and is – very good was lucky because you can't help where you get drafted. But getting to a great team that had so much confidence in me early on to play on some big names in my first and second years gave me a lot of confidence to play tough and the way I can. Making a Grand Final in my second year gives me a lot of want and thirst to get back there and play and go a step further. We went the other direction there and had a few years of sorting ourselves out. COVID happened and we lost our mojo but now we're in a great place and hopefully pushing for it again this year.

Sam Taylor and Dustin Martin compete for the ball during the 2019 Toyota AFL Grand Final between Greater Western Sydney and Richmond on September 28, 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

Since 2022 onwards you've been widely recognised as one of, if not the best, key defender in the game. Is that a mantle you've strived for?
Yeah, definitely. It's an awkward one because I pushed for it a lot a few years ago but now it's more getting back and winning games and winning a premiership. I love pushing myself and trying to get better but at the end of the day there's nothing better than winning games and finals. Those are my best memories of playing AFL.

What goes into your preparation to play on the best key forwards in the AFL?
Now it's a bit easier because I've played for a few years and I know every key forward. I don't like changing the way I play. I like being aggressive and just trying to beat my opponent every contest. I don't watch too much vision otherwise I can change the way I play. I go in with a lot of confidence I can win and not thinking about it too much.

Some players will study, study, study vision. How do you develop the art of stopping them?  
When you come up against a good forward you want to know if they're good at leading for the ball, if they're jumping, you want to cancel that out. But you don't want to totally change your game to suit them. You can't just go away from your strengths. You have to use them to the best of your ability. I tried studying a lot and changing my game but I ended up playing a worse game. I did that once and I was like 'Nup, I'm never doing that again'. That was against Aaron Naughton a few years ago. I tried to be more locked on and watched him more carefully but I lost my intercepting and my feel and instincts so I stopped doing that. It does change for key defenders but I think whatever suits you best is my recommendation. I go in with confidence I can win and when you start having doubts that they could beat you then that's when you lose.

'Sam Taylor taking intercept marks for two minutes straight' was a video that went well on Is the star factor attached to defenders overdue? 
I'm not sure, I say we save games. Forwards definitely get the attention. I'd say defenders definitely need a bit more. What's the saying? 'Forwards bring in the fans and backs win premierships'? I think that's the way it goes.


How do you explain your contrasting on-field tenacity, hardness, even the 'Slammer' nickname, with your off-field personality?
It's a tough one because I am very competitive and love cracking in but then off the field I want to be respectful, treat others the way I want to be treated and I don't think players should be going around thinking they're better than anyone else on the street. I play with arrogance and confidence but off the field I'm just like everyone else and want to be a good person.

Who first called you 'Slammer'?
I think it was (Harry) Himmelberg. He claims it. It was him or Harry Perryman. At first I was like 'What is this?' because I had a nickname from school – 'Serge' – and I was like 'I want my school nickname' so I was like 'What's going on here?' They kept at it and obviously if you resist it sticks a bit more. I like it. But when I'm outside the footy club and someone says 'Slammer' it does feel a bit weird from non-footy world people.

We're seeing key defenders get some massive contracts in recent years. You're a free agent next year but the club has started some early talks to extend that deal. Where does it sit with you? Would you like to get it done this year?
Yeah, preferably I'd like to get it done. But I let that go to my manager and hopefully he can sort something out. But if not then I'll just keep playing footy and doing what I love and hopefully something works out.

Sam Taylor handballs during Greater Western Sydney's clash against Sydney in round eight, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Do you see yourself staying at the Giants long-term?
Definitely. I love the club and I want to win games. I'm surrounded by great people and I don't think there's any better place to be so hopefully we can get something done but I'll leave that to my manager.

Your investment into the Giants can extend to the cat rescue at the club being run by assistant coach Craig Jennings. You helped to organise some signed jumpers to auction off with proceeds helping the cats.
I can't really claim too much, it was all 'Jenno', he's a great person we have at the club and he's very caring and loving. What he did was great and he told me he was building the foundation so to help out with that was an easy one. We got a few jumpers auctioned off for Craig's initiative. We love him for it.

I assume pets were big at home on your farm in Bullsbrook in Western Australia? You had 120 acres to fill…
We had plenty of dogs, sheeps, cows, pigs, a little cat, some horses. Growing up on a little hobby farm was a great lifestyle and a lot of farm animals. You sort of miss that now being in Sydney in a small, little house. You don't get your dogs and stuff like that. I had a lot of animals growing up.

How did the family dynamic shape your footy, being one of seven kids?
It means a lot to me. Being surrounded by them firstly made me very competitive because we'd always play sport in the backyard. It's made me grateful and they've kept me humble. If I ever do anything wrong or make a mistake they get into me and tell me to be better.

Have they joined in on the 'Slammer' nickname?
It's separate to the family, thank God. It's a bit funny when you go home and my mum's friends say 'Slammer', it's just a bit 'Oh God, please don't'. Hopefully it doesn't get to them and we can keep that separate.