THE 2020 rugby league season was shaping up to be Jason Gillard's best to date.
Gillard, fresh off helping the South Coast Black Cockatoos win the 49th annual Koori Knockout, had just completed his toughest pre-seasons with the St George Illawarra Dragons to date.
He'd even lined up at fullback in the club's reserve grade trial match with Newcastle - highlighting how highly regarded he is at the Red V club.
But then the coronavirus pandemic hit - seeing the NSW Canterbury Cup cancelled for 2020.
"We had a great pre-season - everyone was fit and ready to go," Gillard said.
"All you want to do after a big pre-season is play footy.
"Unfortunately, the season was cut short after just one game against Western Suburbs (which the Dragons lost 32-12), which was really disappointing but out of our control."
As devastated as the 22-year-old was, he continued to look forward and stay committed to his training.
"I made sure I stay motivated during lockdown, by working hard and completing fitness and weight programs provided by the club," Gillard, who's been contracted at the Dragons for four years, said.
It was during this time Gillard, who been with the Dragons since 2016, decided to return to his junior club Nowra-Bomaderry - after spending time at Berkeley last season.
"The Jets are my junior club, so I'm really looking forward to going back and playing with the boys again," Gillard, who won an under 18s premiership with the club in 2015, said.
"A lot of my family are associated with the club, as both players and spectators - it holds a special place in my heart.
"Running out there with the boys, a lot who I grew up playing with, will be really special - especially having the opportunity to play under Dylan Farrell."
"Winning the knockout with the Black Cockatoos was a moment I will never forget," Gillard, who played four first grade games for the Jets in 2016, said.
"Half of the team play for the Jets, which got me really excited to come back.
"I believe it will definitely give us the push for a successful season - with the quality we have in the squad, there's no reason we can't make some serious noise."
If the outside back produces on the field and the team is successful, he's confident it can propel him back into the Dragons system for 2021.
"My goals for this year are to stay fit and healthy and play the footy I know I'm capable of each week," he said.
"If I do that, I put myself in the best position to get back into the Dragons' system for 2021."