WITH the majority of their premiership-winning squad returning, the Kiama Knights were already going to be one of the favourites heading into the 2020 Group Seven Rugby League season.
However, the roster is now stronger with the addition of Collegians duo Josh Dowel and Tom Harris - who were both integral parts of the 2019 Illawarra Coal League title.
Harris is expected to replace the departing Ethan Ford in the centres, while Dowel, who finished second in the Paul McGregor Medal voting in 2019, will take over Tyler Clark's starting front-row spot.
"I love Collies as a club - they've looked after me so well," Dowel, who has spent two seasons with the Dogs, said.
"Finishing second in the medal count was really special, as it showed what I'm doing on the field is working.
"However, coming so close and not winning it [the medal] still keeps the fire in the belly to keep getting better."
That improvement for Warilla-Lake South junior Dowel, at least in the short-term, will come in a different black and red jersey - as Collegians decided to not enter a team in the COVID-19 affected Illawarra league this season.
"It is very disappointing to not get the chance to defend the title for Collies," the 22-year-old prop said.
"We were preparing strongly through the pre-season for a big campaign but that will have to wait until next season."
Before he returns to the Collegians Sporting Complex-based club in next season, Dowel will help try and help another side defend their 2019 title.
"I decided to sign with Kiama for this season as it gave me a chance to play with some of my mates [Dylan Morris and Tom Angel] from our Dragons under 20s side," Dowel, whose last appearance in Group Seven came in the Gorillas' 2016 grand final loss to Gerringong, said.
"I always thought I'd be back in Group Seven one day but was never sure when it would happen.
"Now that I'm back, I can't wait to rip in with the boys - especially Tom [Harris], who's been one of my best mates since school [at Lake Illawarra High]."
Dowel won't have to wait long though, as Group Seven is scheduled to kick-off on July 18 and 19.
"I hope to bring aggression around the middle and play big minutes week in, week out - putting the side in the best position to compete each game," the former NSW Schoolboys representative said.
"If I do that and continue to learn each week from the players and coaches around me, I'm confident I can help Kiama defend their Group Seven title."