Eastern Suburbs haven't been short of leading back-rowers in recent years, resigning Orange City junior James Donato to only sporadic appearances in the Beasties' top side as he toiled away in the club's second grade outfit.
His consistency has always been undeniable though and that, coupled with a gruelling pre-season, has earned the 23-year-old a spot on the side of Easts' scrum for this weekend's opening round of the 2021 Charter Hall Shute Shield.
Crucially Donato, a former NSW Schoolboy considered desperately unlucky to never win an Australian spot, will line-up in his preferred No.7 jersey against Southern Districts after playing predominantly on the other side last season.
[Shute Shield] isn't anything new but it is the first time I'll start the season there, so I'm going to do everything I can to hold my spot.Easts' James Donato
"I've had a big pre-season so, yeah, I was stoked when (Easts coach) Pauli (Taumoepeau) let me know I was in the top side and that I'd be playing seven, I always grew up playing there so it's nice to get a crack in that position," Donato said.
"I've been coming off the bench in the Shute Shield for a few years now and made my run-on debut last year so it isn't anything new but it is the first time I'll start the season there, so I'm going to do everything I can to hold my spot."
Donato has been named in Easts' top side along with twin brother Dan, who has a firm grip on the fullback jersey and a host of Waratahs who return to the club during the NSW outfit's Super Rugby AU bye this weekend.
Fellow Lions junior Jack Grant is among them as is Charlie Gamble, the latter of whom Donato labelled as 'far and away the best seven in the competition, probably NSW'. Gamble, however, will slot in at No.8 for Saturday's clash at Woollahra Oval.
"I love playing with Dan, being twins we've been lucky enough to play together virtually our whole lives but we know some people never get that chance so we don't take it for granted, especially not at this level," Donato, the younger of the two by 11 minutes, said.
"It's great to see those 'Tahs boys back, we were all stoked to see Grunta (Grant) get his chance with the 'Tahs this year and having a player like Charlie Gamble back makes such a huge difference. He's actually a freak.
"Souths have a few of those Super boys back this weekend too though, I'm pretty sure, so I'm sure this weekend will be a real grind. Winning's the most important thing, but I always set myself a few little goals as well, like picking up two or three pilfers, that kind of thing."
Although he refused to genuinely buy into the buzz Donato acknowledged his side is well aware they've been pegged as premiership contenders in 2021.
In fact, the Beasties are largely being looked at as title favourites, as they look to finally break a premiership drought stretching all the way back to 1969.
Easts are no strangers to that though, the Beasties have regularly been touted as title heavyweights in recent years but have largely fallen short of expectations.
They pushed deeper into the finals last year though, but were eventually bounced out at the penultimate stage by eventual champions Gordon, a star-studded Highlanders outfit to boot.
"We haven't really spoken about it but we know there's been a bit of chat around," Donato said.
"Don't get me wrong, that's obviously the end goal but Pauli is big on making sure we focus week-to-week and don't think about that, especially when we're only going into round one. It's a long season, it'll be a grind for everyone."
Another Orange City junior in Hunter Ward has also been named for this weekend's opening round, he'll line-up in Manly's back-row as the Marlins take on reigning premiers Gordon.
Nick Duffy, a former Kinross student, will also take his place at halfback for Northern Suburbs after putting the Lions' junior backlines through their paces at Pride Park recently.
Round one kicks at 3pm on Saturday afternoon, with every game being broadcast via Stan Sport.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
HAVE YOUR SAY
- Send us a letter to the editor using the form below ...