Dan McKellar had to grow up pretty quickly around the Burdekin.
Because when you go straight from the school's first XV into the Burdekin Canetoads' first grade side in the tough as teak Townsville and Districts Rugby Union competition, you seem to have a target on your back.
"And when you're a forward, that target is even bigger," McKellar grinned.
"It was a really strong competition back then, a lot of good players. It was a challenge but I had my big brother to look after me, and a couple of mates. They were good times."
McKellar, usually "Danny" around these parts, is back in Townsville as part of the Wallabies' coaching staff as they chase a third consecutive win in the Rugby Championship, this time against Argentina at North Queensland Stadium on Saturday night.
MORE RUGBY UNION
Isolated from loved ones for some time during the Bledisloe Cup series and ensuing Rugby Championship, McKellar won't waste a minute with his parents, brother, sister-in-law and his nieces during a short stint in Townsville.
He returns as a Super Rugby AU championship-winning coach, the Wallabies' forwards mentor and a man widely regarded as a future coach of the national team.
But for the son of publican parents Bill and Mickey, who are now retired in Ayr about an hour south of Townsville, the 13-man code was the first love.
"I guess like most north Queenslanders I was a rugby league boy, and then I went to Townsville Grammar boarding school there," McKellar said.
"Bill Muller introduced me to rugby union back in 1989 and I fell in love with the game. I was fortunate enough to get picked in a couple of rep teams and all of a sudden you start touring around both in Australia and overseas, and you get hooked pretty quickly.
"After school I played for the Burdekin Canetoads for two years with my brother and a lot of my good mates. We won a premiership in 1994 and were beaten grand finalists in 1995.
"Nothing but fond memories, I still have a real interest and love of all things to do with country rugby union."
The Wallabies enter Saturday's clash third in the standings and a top-two finish is not beyond their reach, though the All Blacks are again poised to lift the trophy.
For good reason, McKellar says the mood inside the Wallabies' four walls has remained positive despite kicking off the tournament a string of losses to their trans-Tasman rivals.
Australia has risen to No. 3 in the world rankings following back-to-back wins over reigning world champions South Africa, and they have a chance to close out the tournament with four successive wins.
There is a sense of belief creeping in among fans again, perhaps enough to get punters out of bed early to watch the Wallabies on their Spring Tour of the United Kingdom in November.
"I don't think there's anyone in the world who plays the All Blacks as often as we do. Look, we want to beat them and think in the future we certainly can beat them," McKellar said.
"But we play them often, so it was nice to come up against a different opposition, that being the current world champions. It was a really good week.
"We understand the Argentinians, while they're similar to South Africa, they'll present a different challenge. They'll threaten our defence more and challenge us from counterattack. We need to be sharp."
THE RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Saturday: New Zealand v South Africa at 5.05pm; Australia v Argentina at 8.05pm at North Queensland Stadium.
Wallabies squad: 1. James Slipper, 2. Folau Fainga'a, 3. Taniela Tupou, 4. Izack Rodda, 5. Matt Philip, 6. Rob Leota, 7. Michael Hooper (c), 8. Rob Valetini, 9. Nic White, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Samu Kerevi, 13. Len Ikitau, 14. Andrew Kellaway, 15. Reece Hodge. Replacements: 16. Feleti Kaitu'u, 17. Angus Bell, 18. Tom Robertson, 19. Darcy Swain, 20. Pete Samu, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. James O'Connor, 23. Jordan Petaia.
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: