Titans' Don eyes centre stage
A confident Anthony Don has expressed his intention to push for a centre spot for the Titans' opening game of the season against the Wests Tigers, with coach Neil Henry assuring him that he will be given every opportunity to prove himself.
At 27 years of age and with his only NRL game in the centres coming in Round 26 this year against the Bulldogs, Don would seem an unlikely candidate to cover such an important position but Henry says it is somewhat unusual path to the top grade that will hold him in good stead.
After studying teaching at university – where he twice represented the Australian Universities team – Don went back to his hometown of Grafton where he set point-scoring records and earned a shot with Burleigh in the Intrust Super Cup where he was named their 2011 Player of the Year.
That earned him a two-year deal with the Titans but having signed on again midway through this year through until the end of the 2016 season, Don says he is now ready to become a permanent first-grader, starting in Round 1.
"I've never played a Round 1 game. That's my main goal for the pre-season, to be in the team for Round 1," said Don, who has scored 16 tries in 28 NRL games over the past two years.
"I signed for a further two years and when I finished as a junior I never expected to get this far and probably thought that the NRL dream was over but I've been lucky enough to keep working hard and find myself in the spot I'm in now.
"With each NRL game you play you get more confident and you feel as though you belong out there. Also there were a few injuries to the other boys, which was unfortunate for them, but it gave me an opportunity and I just tried to make the most of it."
Marking up against Test and Origin centre Josh Morris in the Titans' thrilling one-point win in Round 26, Don's defensive capabilities caught the eye of Henry, the coach attributing his protracted path to the NRL for sound decision-making on the field.
"I like the fact that he has had the journey and he's played his country footy and his relaxed nature," Henry told NRL.com.
"He's not about the hype associated with playing in the NRL and he's always quite keen to get back home and mix with the locals so he's quite laid back that way which makes him quite relaxed on the field.
"That doesn't mean he's not 100 per cent committed to his footy, he is, and he's a bit of a late bloomer and I don't think we've seen his full potential yet. He's just been introduced to the weekly grind of full-time training and playing football so hopefully we'll see the best out of him this season.
"Anthony has a good knack of being a pretty solid defender. He doesn't panic out on the field, very relaxed by nature anyway, and that transfers onto the field. He's handled the defensive role very well the times when he's played in the centres so I think he's quite keen to have a crack at that position and he'll get every opportunity.
"He has played some Queensland Cup games in the centres, he's played some fullback as well and I think sometimes he's a little bit wasted on the wing.
"He had a real good game against Morris in the last game against the Bulldogs, I was really happy with his effort in that game and he'd like to be a bit closer to the action himself."
Although the Steeden has been used sparingly in the first eight weeks of pre-season training, Don has already slotted into the centres in training drills, Henry looking for the right combination between Brad Tighe, James Roberts, Josh Hoffman, Will Zillman and David Mead.
Competition for wing spots is also strong at the Titans with Mead, Kevin Gordon and Kalifa Faifai Loa eyeing off selection in Round 1 but Don remains determined to show his wares one man in from the touchline.
"I'm happy to play anywhere that the coach puts me but I've talked to Neil about playing in the centres and I'm training in the centres for the off-season. I played the last game of the season in the centres so hopefully I can train hard and see how we go," he said.
"The main thing will be defensively. It's probably the hardest decision-making position defensively so working on that and then learning the lines you have to run in the centres."