Nerves tend to peak when the opening whistle blows but recently for Bryce Donovan it was a little more than most.
The Hamilton-based 22-year-old was back on the field for the first time in almost nine months after undergoing a shoulder reconstruction.
The injury occurred playing NSW Cup for the Knights at the end of last season but Donovan found himself returning for Souths in a Newcastle Rugby League encounter against Central at St John Oval.
Regardless of the level or grade Donovan said he was feeling the pinch, eventually relieved to clear both the physical and mental hurdles of surgery but getting through unscathed meant more than simply crossing for another four-pointer.
“The first five minutes were a bit how you going,” Donovan said.
“I just got in there and got in my head that if I get a tackle and a run out of the way I’d be right. Once I did that it was no problem.
“The try was just after half-time and it was pretty good to get off the ‘nudie’ straight away. To be honest I was just glad to be back playing footy after eight-and-a-half months, but the try topped it off and we got the win.”
In his maiden outing of 2017 Donovan helped the defending champions record their second win of the year, overcoming the Butcher Boys 43-28 on June 4.
He made a rare appearance in the centres where Souths coach Ben Cross has kept him for Sunday’s clash with Cessnock at Townson Oval.
“Up until about 18 I was always a halfback and five-eighth,” Donovan said.
“When [former Knights high performance director] Graham Murray came to Newcastle he had a chat to me and said he wanted to trial me at fullback because of my running game.
“I’ve predominately been there for the last three or four years, but Crossy wanted me to have a crack in the centres on the weekend. I was happy to do it and didn’t mind it.”
A Western Suburbs junior, Donovan has been part of the Knights system since under 15s but signed with Souths because it gave him the flexibility to continue training with the NRL club’s reserve grade squad.
“I haven’t played local footy for a couple of years because I’ve been lucky enough to stay up at the Knights, but I needed a club to sign with as fallback for the worst case scenario with [NSW] cup.”
“I was going back to Wests, but like most clubs they’ve brought in a policy where you just play for them and can’t be released to play cup.
“Fortunately for me Souths are pretty lenient in that regard.
“The aim is to get some match fitness, play good footy and hopefully get called up again. Then keep moving up from there.”