St George Illawarra outside back Josh Dugan says the current Dragons squad is the closest team he's been a part of, and now boasts the depth it had been lacking in recent years.
Speaking at the launch of the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines, Dugan said he was still unsure whether he would start 2015 in his traditional fullback spot or in the right centre position he made his own at both NRL and Origin level last year.
He revealed he had also been troubled by a lower back complaint but nothing that would cause him to miss any footy.
"Just a few lower back issues but that's the probably same as everyone at this time of year with the amount of running and everything we're doing, but it's nothing I can't manage and haven't managed before," Dugan told NRL.com.
He said the vibe around the squad over the opening weeks of pre-season had been great.
"I think this is the closest I've ever felt in any team," he said.
"Not only the bond but the way the guys push each other at training. No-one gets left behind, everyone's pushing each other to be that one little step better. I think this is one of the best pre-seasons I've been a part of and as tough as it's been, it's been enjoyable."
Some sections of the media criticised a perceived lack of size in the Dragons pack as a weakness in 2014 but some big new bodies suggested this shouldn't be an issue in 2015 with the recruitment of not only ex-Manly cult figure George Rose but also relative unknowns Rulon Nutira and Rory O'Brien, who each played in Country NSW last year and tip the scales at 112 and 110 kilograms respectively.
"They were a bit raw when they first came but they're training well and putting in the hard yards and they're putting a few of the other boys on notice," Dugan said of the pair.
"They're pushing for the spots just like everyone else is. A little healthy competition's always good for a club."
It's not just the forward pack that has a new-found depth: Kris Keating and Beau Henry are both NRL halves and will provide cover for Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop; ex-Rooster Heath L'Estrange and local junior Craig Garvey are among those who will be pressuring Mitch Rein for the hooking role; the club's feeder team, the Cutters, is guaranteed to boast first-grade experience in the three-quarter line at the start of the year and the forward pack is far from settled with plenty of players jostling for spots.
"I think that's what we've lacked in the last few years is depth and now we've got three or four blokes in every position. Everyone's on notice and everyone's on their toes training that little bit harder because they don't want to be left behind," Dugan said.
Dugan also looked ahead to next year's Auckland Nines, and noted teams are not much more clear now than they were a year ago on what is the best way to approach the limited format.
"I think everything's still up in the air – I don't think anyone really learned too much from it last year except it was quick and you get tired quick. I think it'll be pretty much the same this year – it's a bit of fun and it gets the crowd involved," he said.
"You get tired pretty quickly if you're on for three or four minutes going for it non-stop but we've been doing some pretty tough training and if we were to take a half decent side over there I think we'll give it a good run.
"We haven't really spoken about the Nines at all to be honest; we've just been doing the hard yards and the tough stuff at training. After Christmas I think the planning and the business end will start to get thrown into the mix."