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Anthony Don dives over in the corner to score against Manly on Monday night.

For many players an away game is a chance to reconnect with a former club and catch up with mates who now wear the wrong-coloured jersey.

‌For Titans winger Anthony Don, Saturday's clash with the Knights in Newcastle is a chance to consider just how different life could have been.

After completing high school in Grafton Don headed for Newcastle not to pursue a football career but to begin the first of four years at Newcastle University studying to become a PE teacher.

To supplement his study with a small injection of income Don would work at what was then EnergyAustralia Stadium and watch the NRL from afar, convinced that at 20 years of age his time had already passed him by.

After he completed university a season in which he scored 40 tries for the Grafton Ghosts in Group 2 brought him to the attention of the Burleigh Bears and after breaking into their Intrust Super Cup team in 2012 he was invited to attend a pre-season with the Titans.

In the four seasons since he has never been able to truly cement his place on the wing but with a runaway try last week against the Roosters he joined William Zillman on 41 career tries for the Titans, the third-highest in the club's history.

The 29-year-old is one of four nominees for a wing position in the Titans' Team of the Decade that fans can now vote on via the Titans website and admits that heading back to Newcastle reminds of him how life can take you in unexpected directions.

"I'd pretty much given up by then. I didn't think I'd be able to play NRL that's for sure because I thought I was a bit old," said Don of his days at Newcastle University, where he was selected in the Australian University team.

"I was happy doing uni and I was having a great time, loving life so I just moved on and did something else.

"Because they had put so much emphasis on the under-20s system and the comp was going really well at the time so if you don't make it in 20s a lot of people would assume that you're not going to make it into NRL and that's kind of what I did.

"It does make you realise how lucky I am to play footy as a full-time gig and get paid for it."

Last year was the first time that Don had played more than 20 games in a season but even that came with a mid-season demotion back to Burleigh, ironically the same week in which he signed a two-year contract extension taking him through until the end of the 2018 season.

From the outside it appeared as though he hadn't yet earned the trust of coach Neil Henry but in the lead-up to the season opener against the Roosters Don was the first winger to be guaranteed a spot in Henry's side for Round 1.

With 40 tries in 66 games Don possesses an excellent strike-rate in a team that has underperformed for much of his tenure and Henry said he has become a consistent first grader whom his teammates have great faith in.

"He's a consistent performer week in and week out and he's worked hard on his game as well," Henry said.

"He's stronger defensively now, he's always been very good in the air and has a knack of finding the try-line.

"He's just your regular player that turns up and gets the job done and certainly got good respect amongst the players.

"He is a senior player but he hasn't had a lot of time in the NRL because he's been a bit of a late bloomer but certainly consistency would be his hallmark."

None of the kids he taught at Robina, Miami or Nerang when he first moved to the Gold Coast have emerged in the Titans system just yet but those who take note of Don's persistence will have learned a valuable lesson.

"There's always hope and I kind of thought about [playing NRL] but I would have never said anything to anyone," Don said.

"There were other players dropping down from the Titans to my Burleigh team that I could see if I wasn't as good as them I was close to being as good as them in that year. 

"Some people were coming up and saying I should get a manager because an NRL team might come and ask to do a pre-season.

"I still didn't really believe them, it's not my nature to get too ahead of myself so I didn't really believe it until at the end of the season I got offered a pre-season with the Titans and went from there."


Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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