EVEN when they claimed back-to-back Group Seven premierships in 2015 and 2016, one could argue the Gerringong Lions lacked depth in their forward pack.
Since then, that department has gotten even weaker, with a number of faces such as Tim Moore, Michael Brown, Lloyd Bowen and Brad Davidson all moving on.
On stalwart that stayed was workhorse Kal Collins.
But last season, the Lions were even left without his service, after he was ruled out with two bulging discs in his neck (C6 and C7) - with the latter compressing on a nerve, which led to pain in his left arm, shoulder and neck.
"We decided the best course of action was to have cortisone injections in my neck and have 12 months of no contact," Collins said.
"I basically had to take it easy until it got better.
"If it didn't improve after six months from the cortisone injections, I would have had to get surgery to fuse the discs - I'm pretty lucky it healed itself."
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Collins, 27, admits it was difficult not being out there on the field for the first time since he was four years of age.
"The first half of the year watching wasn't too bad because I couldn't even run," he said.
"But as the season progressed, it got harder and harder to watch the games, as my neck started to improve.
"To ensure I was still around the boys, I helped out Daniel Brown with the coaching of the reserve grade boys - I learnt a lot by watching the game from a different angle on the sidelines.
"I particularly enjoyed being able to mentor some of the young forwards in both first and reserve grade."
As Collins alludes to, coach Michael Cronin was left with a young forward pack in 2019, featuring the likes of Judd Collyer, Doug Chandler, Jake Taylor and Alexander Weir.
To their credit, all of them rose to the challenge - so much so, the latter was named 2019 Group Seven Rookie of the Year.
"Our young forwards like Alexander [Weir], Judd [Collyer], Jake [Taylor] and Doug [Chandler] proved they deserve to be in first grade last year," he said.
"I thought they were impressive against the top sides last year, considering they didn't have a lot of experience.
"I'm sure they learnt a lot in the final series last year and throughout the season - they will be a lot more confident this season that's for sure.
"As well as those four, Hamish Holland was made an impressive step up from under 18s last year and if he doesn't play with the Dragons' Jersey Flegg side this year, he will be a real asset for us."
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Now with the return of Collins, to add into the mix with last year's pack - the Lions now have one of the most formidable engine rooms in the league.
"There's no doubting we have lacked depth in our forward pack in the past - Gerringong has never really had many big forwards," Collins said.
"It's not uncommon to start your career in the centres and move into the forward pack like I did.
"This year Crow (Cronin) has plenty to choose from - we've got about eight solid back-rowers that could possibly play first grade.
"Crow usually only rolls with a 14-man squad max, but he will be able to pick 17 fresh if needed this year.
"It's a good dilemma to have - it's something we haven't really had the luxury of having in the past."
After being cleared by the doctor to resume training in December, Collins has been leading the charge at pre-season with the Lions.
"Pre-season has been really exciting so far," he said.
"We've got plenty of numbers in all grades, which is good to see for the club moving forward.
"Everyone has been training hard and ripping in - we had a number of sessions down at Werri Beach while we had all that rain, so we haven't missed a session yet.
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"It's been all really positive."
During these sessions, Collins - who was man of the match in the 2016 Group Seven grand final - has been most impressed by a couple of those aforementioned forwards.
"I've been really impressed with Judd Collyer - he's put on a lot of size in the gym and is carrying it well," he said.
"Alexander Weir has also been impressive - he's a big boy and he will only get better with more experience.
"Both will be up for big seasons this year."
While it was been three seasons since the Lions have appeared in a Group Seven grand final - let alone won one - Collins believes this team reminds him of those premiership squads, with the talent they have across the board.
"We've still got a core group from those premierships, including Nathan Ford, Isaac and Rixon Russell, Corey Mulhall, Joel Doosey and myself," he said.
"Chris Mann is back this year too and he brings plenty of experience and depth to our pack.
"We've been lucky to sign Kayne Brennan from Warilla-Lake South this year too.
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"He will be massive for us, as he adds a lot of strike power out wide and does a lot of work coming out of our own end.
"Him and Matt Winchester in the centres will be dangerous, as I believe they are two of the best centres in the competition.
"We shouldn't have problems scoring points if our pack can lay a solid platform and get us moving forward."
Without getting too far ahead of himself, Collins believes when the season kicks-off - which will be May at the earliest - his Michael Cronin Oval based side will be in the mix this season.
"It's looking like it's going to be a pretty strong competition, across the board, again this season," he said.
"Some of the teams that missed out on finals footy last year have bolstered their playing rosters and will be improved this season - I don't think there will be any easy games.
"Hopefully we can get out there sooner rather than later and get as many games in as possible.
"I'm confident we've got a strong enough squad to give it a good shake - we have pretty high standards at Gerringong.
"Our goal is always to finish in that top three and give ourself every chance of going all the way."