MOST of Group Seven Rugby League's upper echelon have gone through big player turnover ahead of the 2021 season, in an attempt to claim the elusive Artie Smith Trophy.
One club that's held firm though is Jamberoo, prioritising the retention of their squad from last season, including Jayden Morgan (Dragons) and Jarryd Smith (Corrimal) - with the latter joining mid-season in 2020.
"I was on board to play with Corrimal for the 2020 season but due to COVID-19, unfortunately the first grade team had to fold," Smith said.
"I wasn't going to play for another team in the Illawarra competition, so I was considering playing elsewhere.
"I had a couple of close friends that played for Jamberoo and my sister [Brooke] played league tag down there.
"Plus I'd heard the Jamberoo Bowling Club was a nice place for a refreshment after training on Thursdays, so I went down unannounced and really enjoyed it.
"It was a great season to jump on board, the boys were really competitive.
"Everyone was really welcoming and it's a real close-knit club - although I'm still getting used to the cricket pitch."
This has been a recipe of success for the Kevin Walsh Oval-based club over the past four seasons, in which they've won one premiership, reached another grand final and played two other preliminaries - which is one of the main reasons the 29-year-old decided to stay at Jamberoo.
"I was planning on returning to Corrimal to play but with the new format to the competition, it didn't really suit me," Smith, who started at the Cougars as a 12-year-old, said.
"Jono [Dallas] and the boys were keen to have me back as well - with the fact we were so close to winning it being in the back of my mind too.
"Having the same core group of boys, with a few inclusions for this year, is going to be a real positive - hopefully we pick up where we left off."
Smith, who played as the Cougars' first grade fullback for nine seasons, is enjoying his first pre-season at the club.
"Training is going really well thus far, with plenty of numbers on the track," he said.
"I'm particularly enjoying the fact there are no sand dunes in the proximity of Jamberoo, as that was a staple of the Cougars' training."
When the outside back's side kick-off their season against Kiama in round one, they will have one main focus - in what is arguably the club's best era in the top grade.
"Personally, I'm aiming to probably add something to my game each week, that can help the team win," he said.
"Everyone is focused on their roles, getting back into semi-final football and trying to go a couple of steps further in 2021."
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