The Illawarra Cutters have begun building on their impressive debut season in the NSW Cup with a host of new signings and new-found confidence.
The Paul McGregor-coached squad returned for its first pre-season training session of the new year yesterday, sweating out a fitness session at the University of Wollongong.
After surging into the finals in 2012 - falling to eventual premiers Newtown, the feeder team to the Sydney Roosters - McGregor is hopeful of taking his campaign a step further in 2013.
The former NRL star turned coach is confident his side won't suffer from second-year syndrome in the competitive second-tier league.
"We've started our recruiting a lot earlier and our base has been built on last year's finish," McGregor said.
"To get the calibre of players that I have this year, along with the mainstay of guys that we had last year - eight out of the 10 that I really wanted to keep - it's certainly the kind of start that I want."
The Cutters have signed several new players for the upcoming season, as well as retaining the bulk of last year's ever-improving squad.
Among the new additions are Wests Tigers duo Gus Aiga and Nathan Waters, Penrith firebrand Junior Vaivai and Redcliffe Dolphins pairing Matt Hancock and John Kennedy, both star players in the Queensland Cup.
Familiar faces Michael Lett, Jarrad Hickey and Jared Allen have also been retained.
"It all looks well," McGregor said.
"Our expectation last year was to be competitive, but we did more than that and shocked a few people.
"What I expect from this year is not only to compete in every game but also to be a dominant side in every game.
"Each team we play, I want the opposition to know they're in a battle - I want them to walk away knowing they've played a team that competes," he said.
The Cutters will kick off their 2013 NSW Cup campaign with a blockbuster against Newtown on March 9.