UPON his return to Group Seven last season, Kayne Brennan well and truly left his mark.
The 27-year-old and his best mate Daniel Burke were both instrumental in helping their junior club Warilla-Lake South to the semi-finals.
"It was great getting back and playing in Group Seven last year," Brennan, who previously spent two years at Wests and one at Collegians, said.
"There's an assumption out there that the competition isn't as strong as others, such as the Illawarra league, but they are wrong.
"That was shown by how tight the competition was last year and I think it's only going to get better this season."
The former St George Illawarra and Canterbury-Bankstown talent is right, with each of the nine first grade sides significantly improving their rosters for 2020.
Workhorse Kal Collins has been cleared to return from a neck injury that ruled him out of the entire 2020 season, while Tim Moore is returning from a stint in Illawarra with Berkeley and Dapto.
"At the end of last season, my wife [Bianca] and I learned the news we were going to be having our first child," the left edge centre said.
"Living down the coast near Nowra did take its toll on me driving back and forth to Warilla for training.
"I knew I wanted to be closer to home, so I could be home with my son [Blair] more.
"So when the Gerringong opportunity came up I jumped at the chance - especially having the honour of being coached by Michael Cronin in potentially his final season."
On top of that, the Lions are welcoming back Tyran Wishart, Hamish Holland and Denver Ford from the Dragons' system - with their respective seasons being cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This virus also postponed the start of the 2020 Group Seven season, which is now scheduled to kick-off on July 18.
"Having the season postponed was very disappointing considering all the hard work we put in as a team during the pre-season," the Lake Illawarra High School alumnus said.
Like many players, Brennan admits he found it tough to maintain that fitness during lockdown.
"Keeping fit while in lockdown was a challenge with a newborn, minimal sleep and lack of motivation," he said.
"I went on a few road runs whenever I could and did the odd home workouts.
The blue, red and whites, who last won the premiership in 2016, returned to team training last week.
"The fitness work we've done so far has been really tough," he said.
"It's only the start, as we all know we have a big few weeks ahead of us before contact training and then round one.
"The talent on the field, with so many representative players among the group, is special but we know we can't just rely on that and have to dig in every time we step on the field."
As Brennan alludes to, he joins an exciting backline that already includes Wishart, Rixon Russell, Matt Winchester and Toby Gumley-Quine.
"The biggest focus for me this year is doing my job to help the team win," Brennan, who is embracing every second of being coached by Cronin, said.
"I especially want to help our forwards out at the start of sets with hit-ups but also reward our halves with strike-power out wide."
If everyone plays their roles, Brennan knows how much potential this side has.
"My goal, like everyone else in our side, is to win the competition," he said.
"The club has premiership pedigree, which is one of the reasons I joined.
"As I've gotten older, I began to realise being in the position to win a premiership doesn't happen very often, with some people never getting the chance to lift a trophy.
"I'm determined as ever to help the Lions win their 21st premiership."