THE 2020 Group Seven Rugby League season may prove to be the longest in history, due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, which postponed the competition for three months and rain forcing a washed out round.
Despite all that, just days after we were supposed to crown the 2020 first grade premiers with the Artie Smith Cup, we have finally reached the finals series.
Before Gerringong, Jamberoo, Warilla-Lake South, Kiama and Nowra-Bomaderry begin their finals quest, it's imperative we highlight the players who stood out during the 2020 round 10 South Coast competition.
So without further adieu, my 2020 Group Seven team of the season - which is a combination of the competition's top players and not an actual team that would take to the field - is as follows.
1.Matt Winchester (Gerringong Lions)
Gerringong went through the regular season undefeated and their custodian Winchester had an enormous amount to do with it.
Winchester, after spending all 2019 in the centres, reverted back to his best position this season due to an ankle injury to Toby Gumley-Quine.
Just as he did in his first season (2018) at Michael Cronin Oval, he flourished.
Winchester, from his calmness under the high ball and in the in-goal, to his ability to snuff out a try, has dominated all season for the red, blue and whites.
Probably his best game of the season game at Cec Glenholmes Oval, when he helped his side score 22 unanswered points against Warilla-Lake South to secure victory - despite losing Nathan Ford and Judd Collyer to injury early in the match.
Although the former St Johns Eagles NSW Cup star missed his side's final two wins against Nowra-Bomaderry and Stingrays, he easily did enough to cement his spot in this side.
2.Kane Ball (Albion Park-Oak Flats Eagles)
After guiding the Eagles to back-to-back under 18s grand finals (with them winning in 2018), Ball had signed on with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks' Jersey Flegg side.
Ball, when NSWRL decided to cancel all their statewide competitions, decided to return to his junior club and proved to be a massive inclusion for the Centenary Field-based club.
You could tell the 19-year-old had gone through the rigours of an NRL-system pre-season.
Wherever the Eagles played him in the backline - spending time at numerous positions in 2020 - he proved absolutely lethal and was their most dangerous attacking threat week in, week out.
The sheer pace of the former Country Rugby League under 18s representative was a sight for sore eyes, as he, along with the likes of Sam Clune and Josh Sainsbury, were the sole reason the Eagles were in contention most weekends.
3.Kayne Brennan (Gerringong Lions)
Brennan, as impressive as the former Cutters NSW Cup star was in his return to Group Seven in 2019 with his junior club Warilla-Lake South was, took his game to another level this season.
The powerful outside back, that my commentary partner Corey Hammond and I like to affectionately call the 'Cannonball', has been a revelation for Michael Cronin's side.
His dynamic ball-running constantly puts the Lions on the front foot in the early part of their sets, which lays the platform for his dangerous spine to cause chaos.
Although you know nine times out of 10 Brennan is going to scoot out of dummy-half, it's nearly impossible to stop it once his legs get pumping.
Ever since his first game in Lions' colours, when he had two tries and two assists against Berry-Shoalhaven Heads, he's proven why he is the recruit of the season, as well as becoming the premier centre in Group Seven.
4.Ryan James (Nowra-Bomaderry Jets)
James, after a barnstorming 2019, which saw him claim the man of the match honours in the Koori Knockout final with the South Coast Black Cockatoos, hasn't missed a beat this season.
He returned to his more-favour second-row position to start the season but with players such as Saxon Onur and Sean Deaves became unavailable, the club's outside backs stocks took a hit, and James returned to the centres.
James, since then, has formed part of the most lethal right-edge in the competition, teaming up with Dylan Farrell, Tyson Simpson and Braydon Walsh.
James, much like his team of the year centre partner Brennan, is a damaging ball-runner, who regularly gets his Jets attacking sets off to strong starts - with him being just as dangerous close to the line.
5.Justin Jones (Warilla-Lake South Gorillas)
In his first year in Group Seven, the former Dragons NSW Cup back has been electric, to say the least.
Although he's spent most of the season at fullback, his form and six tries proved too much to be left out of this side, seeing me shift him to the wing, where he's played a lot of his higher-level rugby league.
His combination with young halves Blair Grant and Jake Brisbane, as well as hooker Sam Hooper, which has seen him regularly break the game open, is one of the main reasons the Gorillas finished third after the regular season and established themselves as the competition's darkhorse.
If Warilla is to go all the way in 2020, Jones will have a massive say in it.
6.Mark Asquith (Jamberoo Superoos)
Asquith, or Skid as he's affectionately known, has been, in my opinion, one of the two standout players in this year's competition (with the other being his halves partner in my team of the year).
Asquith, since making a seamless transition from one to six in recent seasons, is the key cog everything the Superoos do.
From his strong running game to his ability to score tries out of nothing (seeing him be the equal second leading try-scorers this season with seven) to his rock-solid defence - Asquith has been nothing short of amazing in 2020.
With his Jamberoo halves partner Jono Dallas pulling the strings, it allows the 29-year-old to play what's in front of him.
He is one of the main reasons why the Kevin Walsh Oval-based side finished the year in second and he will be crucial in their attempts to win their second premiership in four seasons.
7.Tyran Wishart (Gerringong Lions)
In my eyes, the only player that's been more impressive than Mark Asquith in 2020 has been Tyran Wishart.
Since leaving the Lions at the end of 2017 to join the Dragons' system, everyone knew he'd taken his game to the next level.
Wishart's efforts, on his return to Michael Cronin Oval following his maiden pre-season with the St George Illawarra first grade group, has been nothing short of exceptional.
On the back of this and Gerringong undefeated minor premiership, the 20-year-old has to be the favourite for the prestigious Michael Cronin Medal.
With the trajectory his career is on, it wouldn't surprise me to see him follow his father Rod's footsteps into the Dragons first grade side in the coming years.
8.Jayden Morgan (Jamberoo Superoos)
Morgan, in his first season at Kevin Walsh Oval, following stints with the Eagles, Sharks and most recently Dragons NSW Cup side, has arguably been the best middle forward in 2020.
His consistent work-rate and ability to get his Superoos side on a roll when they are pinned deep in their own end, have been vital to Jono Dallas' outfit this season.
He regularly plays long minutes in the heart of the Roos side, especially with the likes of fellow forwards James Gilmore, Ben Wade, Jake Fitzgerald, Corey Grigg, Brendan Smith and Kyle Stone all missing time this season.
You can see why he was part of the NSW under 20s squad a couple of seasons ago and on the back of these performances, I imagine the Dragons will want him back in their system from 2021.
9.Nathan Ford (Gerringong Lions)
Ford is hands down still the best hooker in Group Seven - an honour he's held since I started covering the competition in 2015.
Although an elbow injury forced him to miss the Superoos and Stingrays' clashes, Ford still did enough to warrant selection in this side - even though I did consider Warilla's Sam Hooper and Nowra-Bomaderry's Paul Roberts.
His heads up play out of dummy-half is a big part of what the Lions do, as he regularly catches opposition defenders napping - which either leads to a penalty and even better, points.
Morgan's workrate, much like his team of the year front-row teammate, is second to none - highlighted by him finishing in the top-five Michael Cronin Medal vote nearly half a dozen times.
His well-deserved selection makes him the fourth Lion to make the starting side - which is hard to argue seeing as though the minor premiers have seven wins and one draw to their names in 2020.
10.Juvilee Samiu (Shellharbour Sharks)
In what was supposed to be a massive year for the Sharks, due to their centenary season, the year definitely didn't go to plan.
From losing their first ever Shellharbour Showdown to missing the finals for the first time in close to a decade, 2020 proved to be a year to forget for the Ron Costello Oval-based side.
One of the few shining lights for the Sharks was the performance of monster front-rower Samui - with dangerous utility Brody Rigg being the other.
His powerful charges through the middle, which usually required three or four defenders to bring him down, gave his side a fighting chance each week.
Although untimely injuries to other key forwards saw his workload increase, it didn't slow him down, constantly producing high numbers in the hit-up and tackle categories.
11.Tom Angel (Kiama Knights)
Angel, after making his full-time return to the Knights in 2019, which saw him finish second in the Cronin Medal voting behind winner Daniel Burke, hasn't missed a beat this season.
He constantly terrorises the opponent's right edge defences with his ability to break the line, as well as his strength and speed with the ball.
The 22-year-old Robertson product has regularly produced game-breaking moments, including in the side's win against Nowra-Bomaderry, and highlight plays, as shown above in their round eight match with the Sharks.
With those kinds of plays in his back pocket, the Knights are a massive chance to defend their Group Seven crown.
12.Kieran Poole (Kiama Knights)
In a star-studded Kiama pack, which includes Luke Chalker, Josh Dowel, Toby Nobes, Daniel Martin and the aforementioned Angel, Kiama skipper Poole has been the pick of the bunch in 2020.
The versatile play-making back-rower, who is a model of consistency, finished 2019 in a blaze of glory - including a close to a man of the match showing in their grand final win over Jamberoo, and has stepped it up again this campaign.
Poole, a tireless worker who is prepared to do whatever his Kiama Showground-based side need, is a player every team wants in their squad.
Poole, or 'Koo' as we all know him by, leads by example and can sense when his side needs a lift on the field - be it a line-break, a sharp offload or bone-crunching tackle, with him seeming to get better every time he steps onto the park.
13.Luke Asquith (Jamberoo Superoos)
Rounding out my starting 13 is Luke Asquith, who has established himself as the premier lock in the competition, over the past few seasons.
As the second Asquith and third Superoo to make my side, his selection is a testament to his regular 80-minute performances in the middle of the park, for a Jamberoo side who has been down on troops for most of the season (as mentioned in the Jayden Morgan blurb).
Like Poole, 'Duke' doesn't play a bad game of footy and goes just as hard in the 80th minute as he does in the first.
Asquith, as well as producing more than 25 tackles and hit-ups each week, has started to introduce more play-making into his game, which creates space for the likes of Dallas, his brother Mark and fullback Kurt Field.
He has finished in the top-five in the Cronin Medal voting on numerous occasions over the past few seasons and I expect him to be in the mix again in 2020.
14.Cam Vazzoler (Kiama Knights)
Vazzoler is very unlucky to not make the starting side, as he has been close to the third best player this season.
However, it just so happens to two best have also been halves in Asquith and Wishart.
The 2018 Cronin Medial winner is the heartbeat of Matt Clarke's side and orchestrates everything they do on offence.
He finished the season as the competition's leading point-scorer on 79, including five tries, 29 goals and one field goal - which came in his side's round one grand final replay win against Jamberoo.
The classy halfback's kicking game is as strong as any in Group Seven, as is his dynamic running game and he appears to float across the field.
If Kiama is to go back-to-back, Vazzoler will be instrumental.
15.Blair Grant (Warilla-Lake South Gorillas)
Yes, I know this is my second half on the bench, but as I explained in the introduction, this is a merit team and not one that would actually take the field.
Much like Vazzoler, Grant is involved in everything for his Gorillas.
From pin-point kicks to bullet-like cut-out passes and everything in between, Grant's game has reached new heights after his stint with the Dragons under 20s system and his junior club are reaping the rewards.
Finishing the season with 39 points next to his name, Grant and Brisbane have combined to make one of the most exciting halves combinations on the South Coast, which looks set to steer the Cec Glenholmes Oval-based side to the promised land - if not this season, in the coming years.
16.Dylan Farrell (Nowra-Bomaderry Jets)
My third player straight bench player who starts in his respective club's halves.
Although I believe the 90-game NRL veteran's best position is in the back-row, Farrell impacts the game positively, in so many ways, you can play him anywhere.
Farrell, from booming down-field kicks to barnstorming runs down the right edge to bone-crunching hits, is a massive part to why the Jets ended their five-year finals hiatus in 2020.
Although he missed the first game of the season against Stingrays with a hamstring issue, the Nowra-Bomaderry captain/coach hasn't missed a beat since then - being arguably one of the most influential players on the field each week.
17.Kieran Rankmore (Stingrays of Shellharbour)
Rankmore, along with the two Reh brothers, has been fantastic in revamping the Stingrays club in 2020.
Behind those three, as well as the likes of Zaan Weatherall, Chanse Perham and Jake Kamire, the Rays finished the season in seventh after chalking up two wins - equalling their total amount of total victories over the past three seasons.
In his first season back in Group Seven, the former Warilla workhorse led by example each week - always putting his hand up for a hit-up and willing to put his body on the line on defence.
His inspiring performance against the Sharks ended a 1100-day winless drought and helped the Flinders Field-based club win their first ever Shellharbour Showdown.
The Rays appear to be a club on the way up and Rankmore has a lot to do with it.
Near misses for the 2020 team of the year: Paul Roberts (Nowra-Bomaderry Jets), Brody Rigg (Shellharbour Sharks), Sam Hooper (Warilla-Lake South Gorillas), Simon Maslanka (Jamberoo Superoos), Josh Dowel (Kiama Knights), Jake Kamire (Stingrays of Shellharbour), Sam Clune (Albion Park-Oak Flats Eagles), Tim Moore (Gerringong Lions) and Blake Phillips (Berry-Shoalhaven Heads).
Players who retained their spot from the 2019 Group Seven team of the year: Matt Winchester, Kayne Brennan, Cam Vazzoler, Juvilee Samiu, Nathan Ford, Tom Angel, Dylan Farrell, Luke Asquith and Ryan James.
2020 Group Seven Rugby League team of the year: 1. Matt Winchester, 2. Kane Ball, 3. Kayne Brennan, 4. Ryan James, 5. Justin Jones, 6. Mark Asquith, 7. Tyran Wishart, 8. Jayden Morgan, 9. Nathan Ford, 10. Juvilee Samiu, 11. Tom Angel, 12. Kieran Poole, 13. Luke Asquith, 14. Cam Vazzoler, 15. Blair Grant, 16. Dylan Farrell and 17. Kieran Rankmore.