WHEN Jack Murchie put pen to paper on a two-year deal with the New Zealand Warriors in July, he didn't expect to be doing his first pre-season so close to his home on the South Coast.
But that's exactly what's happened, as the Australian products of his NRL franchise have set up base in Kiama for the next couple of weeks - with newly appointed coach Nathan Brown in charge of the rest of the squad in Auckland.
"It's crazy how it's all worked out - if you had told me earlier in the year, I'd be here [Kiama] for pre-season, I wouldn't have believed you," the former Milton-Ulladulla Bulldog and Gerringong Lion said.
"It's a great part of the world and I'm loving every moment of our training camp here.
"Especially when I can stay at home with mum in Gerringong and have her help with the cooking and washing - not to mention sleeping in my own bed."
Upon reflection of his 2020 season, which included 13 matches with the Warriors, the 23-year-old has taken plenty of positives from the year.
"The whole point of me moving to the Warriors was to get the opportunity to play more first grade, which I did - playing in 13 of the club's 19 matches," the Kiama High School alumnus said.
"The season panned out the way I wanted it to, as I was able to play more consistently and showcase my abilities more regularly.
"I felt the longer the season went on, the stronger my form got, especially as I pushed more towards playing the full 80 minutes - which is a goal of my going into next season.
"There were plenty of positives from my first year at the club and I'll be looking to build on that in 2021."
Another aspect that will help the squad next season is their key recruits, including Addin Fonua-Blake, Kane Evans, Marcelo Montoya and Shellharbour product Euan Aitken.
"All those boys are solid first graders, who have plenty of games under their belts, so I have no doubts they will all be assets to our squad for years to come," the Batemans Bay-born forward said.
"They'll complement the core we already have at the club well - it's a really exciting time to be a part of the Warriors."
Murchie and the other younger players in the Warriors squad arrived in Kiama last week before recruit Aitken joins the group next week - with players such as Kodi Nikorima, Bayley Sironen and Peta Hiku arriving on December 6.
"At the moment, we are just working on the fundamental skills and getting that basic conditioning into us, to help prevent injuries and to prepare us for when we get the full squad together in January," Murchie, who trained with the Gerringong Lions in the off-season prior to their Group Seven premiership win, said.
"Once we all get together, then we will really start sinking our teeth into more team and positional aspects of our game."
Until then, Murchie and his squad of close to a dozen Warriors will be put through their paces until Christmas by Minnamurra's Mark Andrews, who is the head of rehabilitation and athletics performance at the Warriors.
"The whole point of our split camp is to allow our players to enjoy Christmas with their families and not have to spend two weeks in quarantine," said Andrews, who's worked with coach Nathan Brown at six previous coaching stops.
"An advantage of having the smaller groups, we get to spend more one-on-one time with the players, honing their skills - whether that's in the gym, aspects of their training or simple ball work like catch and pass.
"Having worked with [Nathan] Browny so much, I know exactly the standard he wants and expects and all the players here with us in Kiama will be held to those high standards, while also having to fine-tune those smaller aspects to their games - which is what I think is one of Browny's real strengths as a coach."
Another person who will be overseeing the Warriors' pre-season camp in Kiama will be assistant coach Justin Morgan, who played 133 games in the NRL with Parramatta, Canberra and New Zealand.
"I've known Browny for a long time and he's an extremely intelligent man when it comes to rugby league," Morgan said.
"I could see the traction the club was getting, thanks to the hard work behind the scenes by Peter O'Sullivan (recruitment and development manager), who was putting together a really strong squad.
"After getting a small taste of it last year when Stephen [Kearney] sadly lost his job, I'm very fortunate to be back in full-time NRL coaching.
"Our new coaching team has plenty of fresh ideas and players, which makes everyone feel we are on the verge of fulfilling some of that potential we developed over the past few years - there's no reason why we can't be pushing into that top half of the competition."
Morgan, who's full squad will assemble in Tamworth for three weeks from January 4, sung the praises of a number of his players' efforts over the past 12 months, including Group Seven product Murchie.
"Murch was really impressive last season," Morgan, who's confident Muchie's ability to play both in the back-row but also in the middle can be an asset to the squad, said.
"After sitting behind a wealth of talent at the Raiders, he hit the ground running with us.
"We feel as though he's a player with plenty of upside and attacking ability.
"There's still a bit of polish that needs to be added to his game, such as his tackle selection, but one thing I've impressed by is his willingness to learn and work on his game.
"I have no doubt, he and a number of our other young players, if they decide to put their heads down and work really hard, they can really establish themselves as full-time NRL players, not just in 2021 but for years to come."