AFTER nine years in charge of Greater Western Sydney, Leon Cameron chose to sign off with a tribute to Sam Taylor at his final press conference in mid-May.
"He's a beauty. He's the ultimate defender. He hates getting beaten. And I love watching him play and that's why our club will be fine," Cameron said.
"I think that’s a good one to end on."
Amid a litany of high-quality key defenders in the AFL at present, Taylor sits right up there with the best of them.
Eventually he wants, in his own words, to be "the best back in the game".
Right now, he's in the midst of another supreme season, as the centrepiece of a backline in a team that has won only five games for the year.
He leads the competition in spoils and is fifth for intercept marks.
A first All-Australian blazer for the 23-year-old from Bullsbrook, on the outskirts of Perth, is looking more likely by the week.
The encouraging news for the Giants is that as it stands, he harbours no intentions of heading back to Western Australia.
"No, no. Sydney's a great place to be. I feel like once we get a few things back in order, we can be a really great team again, and we can push for that top four next year," Taylor told AFL.com.au
And he opened up on the fierce competitiveness that has made him one of the most unenviable of opponents for key forwards in the competition.
A trait that stems from growing up as one of seven siblings, with two older brothers, on a farm around 20km out of Perth.
"At times it's a bit obvious on the footy field when I get annoyed. I have two older brothers, and they've always been bigger than me. I hate getting beaten, and we've always fought," he said.
"They get under my skin, and I always bite back. I had a lot of that when I was growing up."
It was a bite of a different kind that helped shape Taylor’s sporting future though.
Like many sport obsessed kids, his talents in football also stretched over to cricket but after being attacked by a wild pig on the farm, a potentially difficult career decision was effectively made for him.
"When I was 12, I sort of just gave it up because this boar attacked me, and got my quad, and its tusk got into me, and kept me out of that season," he said.
"That ruined my summer one year, and I was like, no, that's it."
It's one of two setbacks in Taylor's young life that would help mould him into the bona-fide star of the AFL that he is today.
Following a breakout season in 2019, Taylor would spend nearly the entirety of the next season sidelined by a mystery hip infection.
He spiralled into a dark place but managed to use the significant obstacle into a springboard for the personal success he's currently enjoying.
"I was really struggling. I had no idea what was going on. The physios, doctors didn't have any idea what was going on," he said
"It was a total reset, pretty much. I lost 12 kilos.
"I had to rebuild everything from scratch again. I really used that to my advantage, and I flipped the script, and as cliche as that sounds, I worked on getting stronger.
"I lost my glutes all together. So, I had to build that back up again. But looking back on it, I wouldn't want it any other way, it put me in the situation where I am right now.”
That’s because Taylor used his time off to study. To study opposing forwards, his fellow backmen and the art of defending.
It's a craft he is fanatical about.
"To say I'm passionate is pretty much a bit of an understatement. Whenever I get beat, I look at ways how that can happen, and I just hate giving stuff up. I want to win in every single way," he said.
"The art of defending, some forwards and mids might say there's not a lot to it, but there's a lot of little niches you can pick up. It's becoming less one on one now, so it's huge to start defending, and working as a unit."
With only 69 games to his name, Taylor’s career is still in the nascent stage.
And that means there are plenty engrossing duels for fans to savour between the Giant and the best young forwards in the game.
He highlights Aaron Naughton and Charlie Curnow as the two battles that stick in his mind more than any other at this stage.
But there’s one opponent that still elicits a heightened emotion for Taylor to any other.
"I played on Buddy Franklin three times, and that was probably the one I do get nervous about. I relished that," he said.
"There's definitely no respect. I mean, the first time he just gave me a huge punch in the chest. But it was fair enough. You've got this scrawny defender on you, and he's like, who are you, sort of thing. But we ended up winning that game."
That winning feeling is something that has been sorely missed at GWS this season though and for an iron-willed competitor in Taylor, it's a feeling that's hard to take.
But he's bullish that it will return in 2023, once their vacant head coaching situation is clarified.
"Once we sort those few things out, we can be a great team again. This year's a bit of a blip, and we'll get back on track," he said.
It may be only a minor consolation but while the team glory has been lacking this season, the individual accolades are sure to continue flowing.
A first best and fairest award and an inaugural All-Australian selection may well be Taylor’s at season’s end.
"I’m proud, but I'm not going to stop and just ponder and take it in. I want to become a great player and become the best back in the game."