He has come of age as a footballer - and, to a large extent, a person - in the uncompromising arena that is NSW country rugby league; tested repeatedly for weaknesses but always resolute.
On Saturday in Cessnock, that time-honoured rite of passage will be invaluable when Lincon Smith starts at prop in the Tigers' first-round Country Championships clash against Newcastle Maitland Region.
It won't be the 22-year-old's Tigers debut. That occurred in 2019 - a year after he made his first-grade debut, at the Bulldogs, impressing immediately as he threw his big frame into defensive walls with a disregard for personal safety that crowds adore.
However, Saturday's contest will be his first for the Tigers since the Country Championships reverted back to an open-age format this year (it had been under-23).
It's a challenge Smith is looking forward to.
"I think I've performed better when I've played against older players," he said. "So, really, I feel like it's [the return to open age] a benefit more than anything - which I'm more than happy about."
One of the most noticeable sights when the Tigers trained at Jack Woolaston Oval this month was Smith's physique.
Intensive sessions with Gunnedah-based professional boxer and personal trainer Enja Prest - a former Australian amateur champion - and group training at the Black 'N' Blue boxing gym had left him fitter than ever, he said. He weights about 108kg.
At Black 'N' Blue, he works with Enja's partner, Australian super welterweight champion Wade Ryan.
"The main thing now is obviously being a lot fitter and being able to move a lot better. I'm backing myself more now," he said.
Smith - who played for Cessnock last year when the Group 4 season was cancelled because of COVID - said he was "more than keen" to rip into it on Saturday.
He said his performance in the Tigers' sole trial this year - a 24-12 loss to Newcastle Maitland Region two weeks ago - was one of his best ever.
"I just felt a heap more fitter, better on my feet and just hitting the ball a lot harder, really," he said. "I guess it just goes to show: if you're willing to put in the hard work, you get the results."
TIGERS: 1 Mitchell Doring (Manilla), 2 Tex Lagmiri (North Tamworth), Reece Jaeger (Gunnedah), 4 Harlee Millgate (Werris Creek), 5 Kieren Williams (Werris Creek), 6 Scott Blanch, captain (North Tamworth), 7 Scott Briggs (Muswellbrook), 8 Brady Benkovic (Denman), 9 Jake Hawkins (Singleton), 10 Lincon Smith (Gunnedah), 11 Jayden Rosberg (Muswellbrook), 12 Brett Jarrett (Dungowan), 13 Daniel Hoogerwerf (Aberdeen), 14 Fraser Evans (Denman), 15 Mitch Sheridan (North Tamworth), 16 Jake McManus (North Tamworth), 17 Daniel Kelly (North Tamworth), 18 Adam Swadling (Aberdeen). Coach: Brad McManus.
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