MANY punters out there tip the Gerringong Lions to have a premiership hangover this season, less than six months after securing a record 20th Group Seven Rugby League title.
Those beliefs are because the likes of Tyran Wishart (Dragons), Matt Winchester (retired), Tim Moore (retired) and Kayne Brennan (Collegians) won't be lining up for the tri-colours in 2021 - while Michael Cronin has stepped down as long-time coach of the club.
But as they've shown for the best part of the last decade, you have to be a brave person to write off the Lions.
While those four key players have moved on, the club has welcomed back Toby Gumley-Quine, Lloyd Bowen, Alec Brookes and Adam Thomson to the club - as well as Judd Collyer and Danny Wedd who missed the grand final win against Warilla-Lake South with injuries.
On top of that, the Michael Cronin Oval-based side have added intimidating prop Aaron Grigg to their playing ranks.
Grigg's last game of rugby league came in the 2017 grand final when his Jamberoo ended a 43-year premiership drought against Kiama.
"After ticking off that goal of winning a first grade premiership, which was amazing, I thought the timing was right for me to try my hand at fighting," Grigg said.
"I originally thought I might try boxing but MMA seemed like the perfect discipline for me, as I just love the competitive nature of it."
Following that fixture, the now 26-year-old decided to try his hand at mixed martial arts - which saw him return a 2-0 record during his time in the octagon, where he trained five times a week with former Warilla-Lake South enforcer Alex Volkanovski.
"I really enjoyed the last few years training with the team at Freestyle Fighting Gym," he said.
"Volko and everyone else there are genuine people, who inspire you to be the best possible fighter you can be.
"There's that team element to training and preparation but once you're in the ring, it's just you and your opponent, which I loved."
As much as he loved it, the training became too time-consuming for the Kiama High School alumnus when he and his partner Emily Robertson welcomed their first child Reggie into the world.
"MMA was very time consuming, with me spending more than two hours each afternoon/night up at Windang training, which resulted in a lot of late nights," he said.
"Regardless of what I do, I try to give it 100 per cent and it was just getting too hard for me to give my all to training, as well as my family.
"It was then I decided to return to rugby league, as it's only two sessions a week plus one game on a weekend."
Instead of returning to the Superoos, where he played his most recent two first grade season with, or Kiama, where he spent five seasons, Grigg chose to play for his first club on the South Coast.
"Family played a big role in my decision to go back to Gerringong," Grigg said.
"When we first moved from Goulburn, I played from under 13s to under 15s there and the only reason we moved on to Kiama was the club didn't have a team for us.
"And with us living back in the area, it made sense for me to return to the club where I still have so many mates - especially as I'd love my son Reggie to start his footy career there too."
As such, the 2021 Group Seven Rugby League season will be the first Aaron and his younger brother Corey, 24, haven't played in the same team (bar one year of under 18s) - let alone at the same club.
"Corey and I have played all our footy together, so it's going to be interesting whenever we come up against one another," he said.
"It will be an interesting afternoon for mum that's for sure and no doubt there will be fireworks."
While he'd obviously like to get bragging rights against Jamberoo during their two encounters this season, Grigg and his Lions have bigger ambitions at the club.
"Gerringong is a very professional club, who has winning ingrained in its culture," he said.
"Even though we've only just started training, which has involved a lot of different conditioning drills, everyone knows what the main goal is and that's a premiership.
"I haven't had much to do with new coach Scotty Stewart much before but he sounds like a great guy, who's down to Earth and all the boys respect - the fact everyone is mates away from footy is a strong basis for success.
"Personally, I just want to come in and do whatever I can to help the club win.
"I'm keen to play big minutes, put my body on the line, stay injury-free and most importantly, be consistent each week - if I do that, I'm confident I can play a role in helping the Lions defend their title."
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