Cult-hero tickled pink to be back on deck
RUGBY LEAGUE: Anthony Don lives for rugby league.
Not just the silky footwork and the airborne acrobatics that have become synonymous with the Gold Coast winger, but the nitty-gritty workhorse efforts that fuel the game's supercharged engine.
It is the reason a weight was lifted off Don's shoulders this week when he could re-join his Titans teammates in full contact pre-season training.
The 30-year-old has been wearing the dreaded pink bib throughout this pre-season campaign.
The pre-season accessory worn by those in the injury ward, has been the albatross around Don's neck from the moment he joined the Titans' pre-season last year.
He has been kept from full-contact work since undergoing a fourth shoulder reconstruction, which after getting infected, had the winger returning to the operating theatre again.
Add to that a bout of pancreatitis, and it has been the off-season of hell for the equable winger.
While he had every right to sit at home and lick his wounds, Don instead sat on the sideline casting a watchful eye over the emerging brigade of Titans hopefuls gunning for an apparent open wing spot in round one.
But it was not jealousy that boiled away inside the winger; it was frustration. Frustration that he couldn't be side-by-side with his mates slogging through the workload.
"I knew I was going to have to take it cautiously, but I have been counting down the days waiting for my chance to get back into it,” he said.
"I had come to terms with the bib. I didn't like it, but I knew it was in my best interests to wear it.
"As a player the last thing I wanted to do was wreck the shoulder more than what I had.
"Sometimes having that protection of the bib was relieving. I am glad it is off now though.”
Don got the opportunity to strip the bib for the first time this week, and while he still eased himself into the session, he relished the moment of first contact.
So impressive he was at training this week, new Titans coach Garth Brennan was quick to suggest the winger was in with a chance at making the Titans' first round clash with Canberra Raiders next Sunday.
While Brennan was hopeful of a surprise return, Don himself was not so sure.
"I definitely wouldn't say I am a certainty,” he said. "I have done a bit of contact now, but there is a big difference between contact in training and contact in a game.
"This has been a long journey, and I would love to be there for the first round, but I also want to be there for the remaining rounds as well. I don't want to risk that.
"I have got another week of training to get through, and I will definitely get my confidence from that. It will just be a waiting game.”
Don was the Titans' best in 2017, averaging almost 100 metres per game and finishing with a team-high 12 tries.
He was awarded the Paul Broughton Medal as the Titans player of the year.
If he is not named in the Titans clash next weekend, Don has backed Goodna product Phillip Sami to take up the challenge of first grade.
Sami, who signed a two-year contract extension with the Titans in the off-season, has been training the house down at Cbus Super Stadium and impressed many, including Don, in his recent trial efforts.
While Don has taken up a bit of a role to mentor the young winger, he said he was learning just as much about himself from the Under-20s bolter.
"Phil has been working very hard this pre-season and I think his efforts in the trials were some of the best across the whole squad,” Don said.
"He is a winger and I am a winger, so I guess we are in a bit of a competition for a spot, but it doesn't feel like that.
"I am there to help guide him.
"He is the young bull, and he has pushed me to train harder to keep up with him, which has been great.”
Don is also looking forward to linking back up with rampaging centre Konrad Hurrell, with the pair rising to cult-like status in 2017.
"It was a shame not to be out there in the trials with him,” Don said.
"He is coming off a massive World Cup for Tonga and I can't wait to see him bring that form into the season.
"I rate Koni as the heart and soul of our club. He lifts everyone around him and we're going to need that in 2018.”
Of the current players, Don has the second-longest tenure with the club after captain Ryan James, and he said with a fresh coaching staff and fresh faces in the squad, this could be a big season on the Glitter Strip.
Brennan, who led the Penrith Panthers to Intrust State Challenge glory in 2017, has his sights set on finals football, and anything else would be a failure for the Titans.
"We didn't go great last year, and there was plenty of focus off the field as well as on it,” Don said.
"Now we just want to get out there and give our fans something to be proud of.
"We owe those crowds a lot for sticking tough through the good and the bad.
"This is the year we do that.”