SOUTH Coast product Euan Aitken credits team morale for what he expects to be a strong return for the St George Illawarra Dragons.
"It's been one of the struggles to be locked down in the house, some of the guys have been alone at home," Aitken said of the COVID-19 lockdown,
"But through social media and other networks we've been able to support each other without the physical presence.
"You do have those days where you're not fully motivated, but the rest of the team has been able to pick everyone else up on those days."
He said the club had been very pro-active in providing online resources and tasking for players to be motivated, but also ensuring there was some friendly rivalry to keep the team dynamic active.
"Most days we have challenges and post up our individual results, that definitely keeps us on our toes," he said with a laugh.
Now with the return of the NRL season looming, Aitken, who spent time at the Shellharbour Sharks during his junior career, believes the Dragons can put on a show for fans - even if they're not at the ground.
"It will be a bit different [to play with no crowd], but when you're coming through the ranks you play high stakes games with little to no crowd, it is a challenge, but we have people on the field and in the team to push each other and keep us going."
"We're stoked for footy, I think we might have an edge [for the restart], we've all come back at a good standard and I'm looking forward to it.
"We were doing one-on-one coaching sessions while we were allowed and everyone is pretty fit."
Like some gyms locally, the club lent out equipment to provide players the best chances to keep up with their routines.
Aitken said he didn't have access to the club's full contingent of gym equipment, but it was a big step in maintaining match-readiness.
"That had been one of the hardest things for us was not knowing how long we would be out for," he said.
"So the club was fortunate enough to lend us some of the equipment so we didn't go completely backwards."
After a two-month delay and extensive rule changes for the remainder of the season, Aitken said it all added up to a new start for the Dragons with the club looking at it as a fresh tilt for the premiership.
"There is a few rule changes and obviously only having one ref is a massive change so it's like having a new comp," he said.
Aitken said he felt privileged to have been able to visit his mum, dad and brothers at home in Pambula before distancing restrictions locked him down at home in the Illawarra, but he's now looking forward to social outings as restrictions ease.
"I've missed the social outings, I love being social to go for dinner or catch up for coffee with mates and family, so I'm looking forward to that freedom."
The return match for the Dragons is against the New Zealand Warriors on May 30.