Don feels the pain of Titans on trial
Four years ago at the ripe old age of 25 Anthony Don came into an NRL pre-season for the first time too petrified to speak with players who would soon become team-mates.
A Grafton junior who had gone off and completed a teaching degree at the University of Newcastle, Don broke all kinds of try-scoring records playing for the Ghosts in Group 2 before being picked up to play Intrust Super Cup with Burleigh in 2012.
Those try-scoring exploits carried through to the top grade with the Bears and he was offered a 'train and trial' contract with the Gold Coast Titans.
Right now across all 16 NRL clubs there are hopefuls busting their guts in the hardest training sessions of their lives hoping, like Don did, to show the coaching staff enough to be invited to become a permanent member of the NRL squad.
At the Titans this year former Shark Pat Politoni, former Titans 20s forward Hayden Schwass, 25-year-old Tweed Heads lock Sam Saville and highly-regarded former Rooster Tyler Cornish are all mixing it with the likes of Jarryd Hayne, Konrad Hurrell and Ryan James endeavouring to prove their worth.
In recent years Agnatius Paasi and Cameron Cullen have turned short-term contracts into NRL starts and Don knows all too well what this year's crop are going through.
"For me personally I was pretty nervous and I'm a pretty shy bloke when I first meet someone so I was just scared trying to talk to all the high profile players like 'Birdy' (Greg Bird), Luke Bailey, Jamal Idris and Dave Taylor," Don said.
"I was mainly petrified even trying to strike up a conversation with someone but you've just got to put in on the field each week and do your best and hopefully the coaches like you.
"I remember when I was doing it as well you're trying to impress and you're getting here early and trying to do everything right.
"They put in every session just like the senior guys so collectively it's a group of men that's trying to achieve as much as they can in the training time that we've got."
With places in both the top and second tier of his playing roster still to fill, Titans coach Neil Henry knows the value of inviting players in to fight for an opportunity in the big time.
Politoni and Schwass were both key figures in Burleigh's drought-breaking Intrust Super Cup title this year and with very little back-up for hooker Nathan Peats, Politoni especially shapes as a future Titan.
"With the train and trial guys there's certainly an opportunity for some of these players to step up and probably earn a full-time contract," Henry said.
"We'll reserve our judgement there until we see how they go before Christmas and the trial period.
"Pat Politoni had a good year at hooker and it's a role that we need some depth in within the club.
"Obviously 'Peatsy' wants to play 80 minutes so he's been training quite well. Young Max King out of our 20s program has been working hard and Hayden Schwass who had a full year at Burleigh in the back row straight out of 20s has been working really well as a young player coming through.
"He's got a good motor and he plays big minutes. He played mostly 80 minutes on the edge although he's got that versatility playing edge back row."
In 66 games across four seasons Don has now scored 40 tries in the NRL but is still pushing to become a permanent member of the 17 each week.
For the first time in his career the 29-year-old played a Round 1 fixture in 2016 and featured in 22 of the Titans' 25 games but still feels he has to prove himself throughout pre-season to be on the wing for the first game of the season in 2017.
"Throughout my career I've never really had a spot cemented for the whole season so I'm not going to get ahead of myself," Don said in the wake of David Mead, Josh Hoffman and Nene Macdonald all leaving the club in the off-season.
"I know I've still got to compete hard to try and get a spot and hopefully I can do that through my pre-season form and throughout the trial games and start of the season.
"There are a lot of guys there that can play those positions so it's still going to be a tough pre-season and a lot of competition for spots."