Like a seasoned politician from the town he’d just left, Daniel Vidot never once deviated from the party line. He was late to training, it was his fault and he was punished accordingly.
In an early season saga at the Dragons, the 22-year-old they’d recruited from Canberra to fill the shoes of Mark Gasnier had been dumped to reserve grade over disciplinary issues.
New coach Steve Price used the affair as a chance to declare his authority loud and early. But through it all, Vidot wouldn’t reveal the truth that he was still homesick. His future was unclear.
“There’s been a lot of family stuff,” a candid Vidot tells Big League. “You miss your family and there are little things that you’re missing out on.
“You get depressed. To be honest, I did go through a pretty rough patch. There was a time when I really needed to get away from everything and really just sit down and think about what I wanted to do.”
With Vidot’s family hundreds of kilometres away in Brisbane, brothers and sisters growing up without him, the game nearly lost the exciting young back. But just when things were looking their darkest, Vidot found light in the form of a stocky, 177-centimetre five-eighth who’d been rescued by the same club Vidot was now trying to make home.
Somebody like Jamie Soward was the missing link that Vidot lacked during his time at Canberra, a period he describes lightly as “a tough time”. Despite coach David Furner’s best efforts, he couldn’t secure for Vidot what he needed most, a sense of family.
“He’s an older brother figure to me,” Vidot says about Soward, a man who’s owed plenty for keeping Vidot at the Dragons. “He always gives me a call when he knows I’m down.
“He’s sat me down and said, ‘You’ve got to get your head on right,’ and he worked on a few of the off-field things with me… It’s really good to have blokes like that around, blokes with experience, especially for a young fella.”
Soward uses the same words to describe the youthful Vidot, someone he says is a star of the future.
“You’ve got to realise he’s still only a young fella,” says Soward. “He’s got all this size and speed and he’s probably not really knowing what to do with it. But I’ve got a lot of time for Daniel. He’s turned his training around and made sure he’s training up to the Dragons standard that we’ve set over the past couple of years and that’s important.”
So profound has Soward’s impact been on Vidot that he now hopes to be a similar figure as his career matures. And he might not have long to wait.
Vidot shares a house with some of the Dragons Toyota Cup players including talented fullback Evander Cummins. He says he wouldn’t have lasted this long in the NRL without the refuge that house provides.
“You need that sometimes, to get away from footy. Everyone’s really good and they’ve always got your back and it’s the kind of thing you need around you,” Vidot says.
Last year David Furner learnt that Daniel Vidot isn’t the easiest man in the NRL to coach. At least he didn’t have to cater for him.
“Every Monday night we’ve got a restaurant across the road that does ‘all you can eat’ so we go across every Monday with the 20s boys,” says the 187cm, 104kg Vidot. Asked if there’s any food left after the Dragons boys’ escapades, he laughs and admits: “Yeah, [the restaurant] probably struggles on that night.”
In many ways, Vidot is a walking contradiction: He’s more Queensland than tropical weather and the Great Barrier Reef but he’s playing for New South Wales’ southernmost club; he’s one of the largest, most intimidating backs in the NRL but he admits to a penchant for Shakespearean plays and once played lead in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore”; he has enough taste to recognise a sound mentor in Jamie Soward, yet his favourite singer is Michael Bublé.
But Vidot has something that can’t be taught. He’s a crowd favourite, and he’s philosophical about the issues he’s faced since moving away from his beloved Brisbane five years ago. “I am happy. There are just a few things I need to practise,” he says.
Perhaps it was fate that Daniel Vidot would find an unlikely saviour in the Dragons. After all, he’s been sketching that famous big ‘V’ every time he’s penned his surname over the past 22 years.