AFTER a strong pre-season and tough opening round victory, Scott Balsar and his Illawarra Hawks youth men were flying high in the early part of the 2020 season.
"It was obviously disappointing to have the season delayed after such a great start to our campaign," Balsar said.
"Although we lost a little bit of our momentum, we didn't lose the hunger for success.
"During the lockdown, I didn't send out a program to the boys, rather empowering them all to do their own work - seeing as they are all young men, who know their own bodies.
"We caught up regularly via Zoom and group text messages, to ensure everyone was still doing the work.
"Once we got the go-ahead to restart training, everyone's enthusiasm went up another level."
Balsar and his Hawks returned to the hardwood last week for the first time in month's, partaking in a one hour shooting session, as contact work can't start until Wednesday.
"I was really impressed with the condition everyone came back in," Balsar, who won a banner with Shoalhaven in 2018, said.
"I thought there may be a little rust at first but we were very crisp from the outset.
"Everyone was champing at the bit to get back on the court and that was shown by the positive energy at last week's session.
"I assume it'll step up another notch when we can resume normal training this week."
The Snakepit-based team, which will be bolstered by the return of Zac Ottosson and Tom Cranney, will now have six sessions to prepare for their round two clash with Bankstown on Saturday, July 18 (4pm) - which is part of an Illawarra triple-header.
"I can't wait to get back out there doing what I love," said coach Balsar.
"Bankstown just beat us during the pre-season but a lot has changed since then - I confident we can build on our opening round win and move to 2-0."
This game will be followed by a home game against Blacktown before three straight road games against Sydney, Newcastle and Central Coast - in a competition Balsar believes is the toughest he's seen in years due to the change in age restrictions (from under 22s to under 23s).
"I believe the shortened nine-week regular season can benefit us, especially if we can steal a couple of wins early," he said.
"With you only getting the chance to play each other once, it's imperative you make a strong start, so you're not playing catch-up in the later rounds.
"If we do this, I'm confident we can make the all-important top four.
"Once you make the semi-finals, to be played in Sydney, anything can happen.
"We see that goal as a stepping stone to us achieving our main objective, which is hanging up a banner at the Snakepit."
The Hawks, which also have Shoalhaven's Jason Funnell and Erwin Balsar on the staff, will wrap up their regular season with three straight home fixtures (Maitland, Hills and Hornsby) before facing Penrith and Sutherland on the road, before the finals start on September 19.