Representative player Brad Scott believes Illawarra Division's chances of retaining their Country Championship title are "better than ever" after the side was announced on Thursday.
Scott was considered a near certainty for the squad, but admits he endured a nervous wait after a rib cartilage injury suffered in round one kept him out of the Devils's line-up until their 46-12 win over Corrimal last week.
He was one of several familiar faces in coach Gavin Clinch's side, with 10 members of the 17-man squad given the opportunity to defend the title they won last year.
"We formed some good combinations last year so if we can keep the same combinations going and add something extra with the new guys, I'd say we're a good chance of going back-to-back," Scott said.
He said success in country football's top tier often depended on how well a team came together.
"It's a different situation. You are competing against them every week through the season trying to be better than them and trying to put it over them, but when you come together as a team it takes a back seat," Scott said.
Dapto hard man Matt Handcock is one of the new faces in the squad, with his standout form earning him a call-up.
"It's overwhelming really. I didn't think I'd get in given we [Dapto] haven't really had many wins this year," Handcock said.
Illawarra face a tough first-up test against a formidable Central Coast outfit on June 14.
Illawarra escaped with a close victory in the corresponding clash last year after stealing the match with a late try.