HUNTER Wildfires coach Scott Coleman and the players had a message for Donny Freeman when the breakaway departed on the eve of the Shute Shield finals to take up a short-term contract with the Western Force - 'Go and don't come back'.
It was exactly what Freeman needed to hear.
The aim of the Wildfires is to become a pathway to Super Rugby and beyond.
If that means losing one of their stars on the eve of the finals, so be it.
"It was tricky, but having the support from 'Bubba' and all the boys was reassuring," said Freeman, who helped the Wildfires beat West Harbour to secure a place in the finals in his last game. "Having them tell me 'go and don't come back' was the support I needed to go - right I'm all in.
"I wouldn't be in this position without the Wildfires."
Freeman, 23, is halfway through a 10-week contract and is back in Newcastle to freshen up after a tour to South Africa.
"It has been a huge step up," Freeman said. "The intensity at training and the importance of getting the little things right at the next level. There is a knock-on effect to the rest of the team if you don't nail that role."
Freeman started at blindside breakaway in 31-27 and 27-12 losses to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Carlo Tizzanno played number seven.
"They wanted to go with two openside breakaways," Freeman said. "Traditionally South African sides are slower at the breakdown and they wanted to challenge them more in that area.
"The first game was very tight. It was a different way of playing footy. The Cheetahs play a European style. They slow the game down and go from set piece to set piece. In the first game, their maul destroyed us."
Freeman had only played one game back from eight weeks out with a syndesmosis injury when he joined the Force.
"It was good to get that first game out of the way," he said. "I had a lot of nerves and what not. Training is very different to playing. I wasn't too happy with how I performed in the first game. There was a few things I had to fix up. I was a lot more comfortable in the second game."
Freeman heads back to Perth on Saturday ahead of return matches against the Cheetahs in Perth on September 29 and October 7.
He and Tizzano, a local product who spent three seasons with the NSW Waratahs, are the only genuine number sevens in the squad, which has been bolstered by the signing of Wallabies Will Harris and Ben Donaldson.
"I have been given areas to work on, similar to the existing players," Freeman said. "I'm pretty fresh to the set-up, it's a learning experience for me.
"It has been unreal. Playing rugby for a living has always been the goal. Now I have a taste of professional rugby, it has reinforced that.
"They are definitely targeting younger players and are building for the next few years. They will let me know after the next two games if they want me to stick around."