Illawarra are determined to start their McDonald's Country Cricket NSW Championship in winning fashion when they face Western Zone at Goulburn on Friday's opening day of the Southern Pool.
The team's campaign was over before it had begun last year, a first-up loss to ACT Southern Districts effectively ending their chances of progressing to the final.
With Southern Pool matches on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Illawarra captain Jamie Fleming said the weekend can quickly turn into a very long three days if they do not start on a positive note.
"It all comes down to the first game," Fleming said.
"If you lose the first game, the next two days can be hard. The first 10 overs set the tone for the rest of the three days. If you win the first game, it gets easier the next day. If you lose the first game, getting back into it is difficult.
"We'll have a big emphasis on that first game, on that first session in the field and the first opening partnership with the bat."
Illawarra's been unsettled by injuries in the past week, with captain Graeme Batty, junior star Jayden Zahra-Smith and Shoalhaven all-rounder Justin Weller all ruled out. Fleming was elevated to captain as a result, while Dale Scifleet, bowler Jake O'Connell and all-rounder Matt Pike have been drafted into the side.
Fleming acknowledges the three injuries are not ideal, but he's confident he still has a squad capable of progressing to the final.
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"I wouldn't be giving up three days if I didn't think we could compete. We don't want injuries to happen, but this is an opportunity for people to step up.
"We've got people in the side who really want to dig in and compete and show their worth. Dale has played for NSW Country, he's a competitor.
"These guys when I play against them, they're all very vocal and in your face. If we can put that together with the likes of Kerrod White and Elliot Hooper, we'll do very well."
Friday's match against Western will be followed by clashes with Riverina and ACT-Southern Districts, with the winner of the pool set to take on Newcastle, the Northern Pool carnival winner, in the final.
"We have to get through this week first. We don't quite know what to expect out in Goulburn," Fleming said.
"The main thing for us is putting runs on the board, we should have the bowling to defend a total."
Ilawarra haven't seen a great deal of Western Zone in recent times after Western was moved to the Northern Pool carnival for the past two seasons.
The two sides last met at the Country Championship in 2016-17 and that day Western scored a resounding, 109-run win.
Not one of the members of that Western side will be in action at Goulburn though, and the current Illawarra side is unrecognisable from that one.
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