Warilla captain Andrew Diomei is eager to make up for lost time when he leads the Gorillas into battle against Shellharbour in tomorrow's annual Jarrod Morgan Shield clash at Ron Costello Oval.
Diomei was a notable absentee in last year's heartbreaking grand final loss to Gerringong.
The uncompromising prop broke his thumb during a match late in the season before a bout of golden staph knocked him out of the entire finals series.
Tomorrow's clash isn't worth any competition points, but Diomei feels like a kid in a candy store after initially fearing his playing days were finished.
"I've been out for a while and I'm just keen to get back into it with the boys," he said. "It killed me last year to sit there and watch the GF. It was terrible.
"It was just a regular broken thumb and then I got golden staph. It was a bit scary when I came to at the hospital and they had all these drawings over my arm. For a minute there I thought I was going to lose my arm.
"I've bounced back pretty good and I'm just keen to get back out on the field. It's been too long. Shellharbour's always good to play in your first game back, so I can't wait."
Shellharbour have returned to Group Seven in 2014 after five years in the Illawarra competition.
"It's good because it strengthens the comp up a bit," Diomei said.
"It's not going to be just a two or three-horse race now. They'll be one of the solid sides throughout the year."
Experienced prop Damien Paulisson has left the Sharks to rejoin Warilla, while versatile back Nick Lazerevski has also returned.
The Gorillas will wear a specially designed commemorative jersey to mark the club's 50th anniversary for juniors.
"That first trial is always exciting. The boys have put in during the pre-season and been working really hard," Sharks coach Dave Walsh said.
"There's a lot of rivalry with Warilla and the Jarrod Morgan Shield is a real good occasion. We're pumped and I'm sure Warilla will be too.
"I'll be trying some different combinations. It's all about giving a few blokes I don't know about an opportunity to show me what they've got. We might experiment a bit to try and come up with a team we can go forward with for the year."