THE Greater Illawarra Zone side, featuring Batemans Bay product Rhys Voysey, is determined to start their Country Championships in winning fashion when they face Western in Goulburn on Friday.
The team's campaign was over before it had begun last year, a first-up loss to ACT Southern Districts effectively ending their chances of progressing to the final.
With matches on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Greater Illawarra captain Jamie Fleming said the weekend can quickly turn into a very long three days if they do not start on a positive note.
"It all comes down to the first game," Fleming said.
"If you lose the first game, the next two days can be hard.
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"The first 10 overs set the tone for the rest of the three days.
"If you win the first game, it gets easier the next day.
"If you lose the first game, getting back into it is difficult.
"We'll have a big emphasis on that first game, on that first session in the field and the first opening partnership with the bat."
The Greater Illawarra squad has been unsettled by injuries in the past week, with captain Graeme Batty, junior star Jayden Zahra-Smith and North Nowra-Cambewarra all-rounder Justin Weller all ruled out of the team.
That saw Fleming elevated to captain, while Dapto's Dale Scifleet, Wests bowler Jake O'Connell and Highlands all-rounder Matt Pike have been drafted into the side.
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Fleming acknowledges the three injuries are not ideal, but he's confident he still has a squad capable of progressing to the final.
"I wouldn't be giving up three days if I didn't think we could compete," Fleming said.
"We don't want injuries to happen, but this is an opportunity for people to step up.
"We've got people in the side who really want to dig in and compete and show their worth.
"Dale has played for NSW Country, he's a competitor.
"These guys when I play against them, they're all very vocal and in your face.
"If we can put that together with the likes of Kerrod White and Elliot Hooper, we'll do very well."
Friday's match against Western will be followed by clashes with Riverina and ACT/Southern Districts, with the winner of the pool set to take on Newcastle in the final.
Wollongong was originally slated to host the final on November 17, however North Dalton Park is unavailable due to the upcoming Women's Big Bash League match.
At this stage, the exact location and date of the final is still to be confirmed.
Regardless of the venue, Fleming said the opportunity to play Newcastle in a Country Championships final acts as a major carrot for his side this weekend.
"It would be awesome if we played Newcastle at home.
"We used to play Newcastle in a two-day match every year and it was great.
"We beat Newcastle at last year's Country Championships, so they will want to get one back.
"We have to get through this week first. We don't quite know what to expect out in Goulburn.
"The main thing for us is putting runs on the board, we should have the bowling to defend a total."
Country Championships Southern Pool
Round one - Friday, November (8.10am)
Greater Illawarra vs Western At Prell Oval
Riverina vs ACT/Southern Districts At Seiffert Oval
Round two - Saturday, November (9.10am)
Riverina vs Greater Illawarra At Prell Oval
ACT/Southern Districts vs Western At Seiffert Oval
Round three - Sunday, November 10 (9.30am)
Greater Illawarra vs ACT/Southern Districts At Prell Oval
Riverina vs Western At Seiffert Oval