Don deals with disappointment
Ever since he grew too big to pursue his dream of riding a winner at the Clarence River Jockey Club, Anthony Don has found a way to deal with disappointment.
While classmates were off exploring career pathways throughout Grafton on their Year 10 work experience, Don chose to muck out the stables of a local trainer even though his growing body was telling him that life as a jockey would be soon beyond him.
When he completed high school Don's dreams of becoming a professional rugby league player also appeared destined to remain unfulfilled so he went to university and completed his study to become a PE teacher.
And even after representing the Australian Universities team on overseas tours in 2009 and 2010 still no NRL clubs showed an interest.
It wasn't until he returned home to Grafton and scored 40 tries in the Ghosts team that won the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League premiership in 2010 that he caught the eye of the coaching staff at Burleigh Bears and when he was named the club's 2011 Player of the Year 12 months later, the Gold Coast Titans came calling with a two-year full-time NRL contract.
Injury and opportunity meant that he didn't fulfil his NRL dream until Round 6 last year at the age of 25 and why he was desperate to ensure a compound dislocation of his finger suffered in Round 9 didn't cost him his place in the side.
Don's opportunity to return to the NRL squad only presented itself after the hamstring injury to William Zillman instigated a backline reshuffle and Don wasn't about to extend the same chance to another member of the squad eager to prove their worth.
"The main reason I wanted to come back for the next game after I did my finger was because I knew how competitive it was for spots in first grade," said Don, who will again play with a needle on Saturday evening to dull the pain he still feels in his finger.
"If I give someone else an opportunity and they play good then the coaches don't have any reason to drop them and I'd be stuck in Queensland Cup again.
"I just wanted to make sure that I tried to keep my spot and keep up my form and if I played bad then that's fair enough but I wanted to get in there and try and keep my spot."
All throughout pre-season Titans coach John Cartwright reiterated his faith in his back three of Zillman, David Mead and Kevin Gordon but Don still struggled to cope with the realisation that he would be starting the year in reserve grade.
A week before the NRL season commenced Don was lining up for Burleigh again in the Intrust Super Cup and admitted that after a gruelling pre-season it is a difficult adjustment to make, especially when you are hoping to impress enough to earn a new contract beyond 2014.
"It's extremely hard to get up, especially at the start of the season when you think you're in with a shot for first grade and you get dropped," Don said of finding the motivation to perform at that level.
"It's just a completely different feeling. You go to a team where you don't really know many of the players and grounds that are like the ones in Grafton but once you get into the rhythm of it after a couple of games it starts to get a lot easier when you know your role in the team but at the start it's really hard to get up for."
Don's form over the past two months has been the best of his admittedly short career to date, scoring four tries in his past three games and proving to be extremely safe under the high ball at the defensive end.
He has defused 14 kicks in seven games and run for an average of 84 metres per game but – perhaps surprisingly for a winger – it is the defensive combination he has formed on the right side with centre Brad Takairangi and back-rower Dave Taylor that Don is most proud of.
"Defensively we've got a good side going on the right side with me and 'Taka' and Alby (Albert Kelly) and Dave and 'Mini' (Mark Minichiello)," said Don, who will mark up against the 'Beast', Manu Vatuvei, on Saturday night.
"We all defend pretty well together and we all know what each other is doing. That makes it so much easier when you're defending and the guy inside you knows what you're thinking so that's probably been the big improvement from last year to this year."