Don On Verge Of Country Call-up
He is the cut-price former bush footballer who finally feels comfortable in NRL company and now Titans winger Anthony Don needs just one more strong performance to secure a place in the Country Origin team to play City Origin in Mudgee next Sunday.
Country coach Craig Fitzgibbon confirmed to NRL.com that Don is being considered very closely for one of the wing spots in what will in all likelihood be the last match in a concept that has been part of the rugby league calendar for the past 106 years.
A relative latecomer to rugby league, Don represented the Australian Universities team whilst studying to become a PE teacher at Newcastle University, returning to his home town of Grafton upon the completion of his studies in 2010 where he scored 40 tries in the Ghosts' undefeated premiership season in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League.
He was close to being selected to play last year in Tamworth before he was dropped back to the Intrust Super Cup but Fitzgibbon believes he is now a much more confident player and worthy of his first senior representative jersey.
"He's playing fantastic at the moment and certainly in the firing line so another big game for his club won't harm his chances any," said Fitzgibbon, who used Cowboys centre Kane Linnett and Panthers back-rower Isaah Yeo as his wingers in Tamworth last year.
"I've been a fan of his for some time and hopefully he has another big game for the Titans this week."
Always self-deprecating when it comes to his representative chances – "I probably get forgotten about because I'm not as good as the other wingers" – Don told NRL.com that he would consider a Country jersey a great honour should he be selected.
"There was talk one of the other years that I might have been a chance so I've thought about it and it would be a great honour if it happened," Don said.
"There are a lot of other good wingers out there that are probably more realistic options of playing State of Origin.
"It's such a good thing for the boys from the bush and some of the city slickers to represent where they come from but on the other hand you can see what it has lost its meaning as an Origin trial and selection.
"If I got the opportunity it'd be great and I'm sure it would make my family really proud."
Although he has been on Fitzgibbon's radar for a period of time, Don has rocketed into selection contention on the back of some eye-catching performances against the Broncos and Sharks in consecutive weeks.
Against Brisbane he scored an 80-metre try and produced an extraordinary kick back in-field for Chris Grevsmuhl to score and then last week ran for more than 200 metres and conjured a great escape from his own in-goal with his team under pressure late in the game.
After making his NRL debut at the age of 25 in 2013, Don has quietly moved to third on the Titans' all-time try-scoring list with 43 four-pointers and said that he has felt much more confident about his place in the team this year than in any previous year.
"I'm riding a bit of a crest at the moment but I know that things can change. A bit of luck goes against you and you can be out the other end," said Don.
"I definitely feel more confident and that I can get involved in games a bit easier.
"In the past if you're playing out on the wing sometimes if the ball doesn't go your way and they're not kicking to you, you can go through a game without getting involved much.
"I don't know if it is part luck or a bit more confidence but it feels like I've been able to get involved in the games more than previous years."
Four members of Fitzgibbon's Country team from 2016 – Boyd Cordner, Tyson Frizell, James Maloney and Shannon Boyd – will next week be in camp with the Kangaroos in Canberra but the six-time Country representative is confident he will have a talented team at his disposal.
"Our Country players that are banging on the door for Origin selection are in the Test team," Fitzgibbon explained.
"If I get the players that we want to, I think we'll have a good mix of guys that have earnt it, guys that want to play and guys that will play really well for Country.
"I'm comfortable where we're at provided the clubs release those players. That's the lottery that we face with it."
This article first appeared on NRL.com