DEAN Merola has returned to the representative cricket structure with a vision.
Five seasons since he was last involved, the experienced coach is determined to turn the Greater Illawarra Zone side into a Country Championships force.
Whereas the competition has been treated as a weekend away in previous years, Merola wants representative cricket to be the pinnacle for the region's cricketers.
With an increased focus on professionalism, the coach is determined to ensure Greater Illawarra enjoys success as a team.
That, he hopes, will lead to selection in the NSW Country side for a growing crop of players.
"We're trying to improve the professionalism of the set up," Merola said.
"Getting Steve Nikitaras on board as an assistant coach was a big part of that.
"We're trying to pass on our knowledge to the younger guys in the squad who might not have had representative experience before."
Merola has been pleasantly surprised by the response he has seen from the region's cricketers since taking over.
As was the case with the Creighton Cup, the top players across the four associations have put their hands up for selection.
Kerrod White will lead the squad in Goulburn at this week's Country Championships, with brother Brendan and Shoalhaven's Justin Weller also in the side.
The Illawarra contingent includes seasoned campaigners Rhys Voysey (a Tuross Head product), Mitchell Hearn, Xavier McDevitt and Eric Denhartog.
The team's campaign will commence on Friday when they face Western Zone, before games against ACT Southern Districts and Riverina on Saturday and Sunday.
Merola is confident he has selected a side capable of winning the southern pool. Should they do that, a return to the final beckons.
"The good thing about this squad is everyone Niko and I wanted in the team, they were all keen to play.
"They want to contribute and help us achieve our ultimate goal.
"We have a good mix of experience and youth.
"Elliot Brookes from Highlands has taken the gloves from Andrew Page, he's an exciting young player.
"Tane Nunn is another one we know how he can play, he's got that killer instinct and can be a match-winner for us.
"The biggest drawcard for us is making Kerrod captain.
"He's the quality cricketer not just in the region, but in NSW.
"He's a match-winner and a strategist."
This weekend's tournament is the third the combined Greater Illawarra Zone will contest since its formation in 2018.
While there have been big strides taken in that period, there have also been some growing pains.
Merola's focus is on the field, but he recognises the importance of progress off the field as well.
"Professionalism on the field has to be matched off the field," he said.
"Once that comes together, we'll see Greater Illawarra become the powerhouse it should be.
"It's not just on the field that counts, everything else is important.
"It all starts from the top, if we can get measures in place, we'll see a strong Greater Illawarra."