Josh McTaggart hopes to leave any lingering niggles behind him and use last season's rookie experience at the Australian Country Championships to better attack the upcoming carnival in hometown Newcastle.
The 22-year-old, representing the Bush Blues at a second straight national titles, has nursed groin and side strains throughout this summer but following the Christmas break now hopes to be fully fit for eight days of competition from January 3.
"I'm coming off a little bit of an injury cloud the last few weeks, especially after [the NSW Country preliminary rounds in] Tamworth, but working with the physio I got back on the park," McTaggart told the Newcastle Herald.
"So it's a little bit of a concern but last year preparing and playing the consecutive days, I think I understand what I have to do and how I have to treat my body to get through the eight days of the carnival."
McTaggart, an electrician by trade who opened the bowling for Newcastle in a successful state final at No.1 Sportsground on December 10, will be one of two under-23 representatives in the NSW Country squad.
Having debuted at this level 12 months ago, he hopes to step up at the 2023-2024 tournament and maybe even "lift the trophy at the end".
"Last year was a big learning curve for myself and a chance to mature a lot, the way I approach my cricket and the way I play," McTaggart said.
"I think this year I'm more prepared and I understand the standard I have to be at to succeed at this level.
"I definitely think this will be a more successful year for NSW as a whole, we probably disappointed last year a little bit.
"The side this year's looking really strong and can't wait to meet a few of the boys ... everyone's got positive vibes and hopefully we can lift a trophy at the end."
The Bush Blues will assemble in Newcastle on Monday and train together on Tuesday before opening their campaign against ACT at Harker Oval on Wednesday. McTaggart, originally from Mid North Coast town Wingham, switched locals clubs to Stockton after three seasons at Waratah-Mayfield.
He's also moved in with one of his new teammates at seaside suburb Merewether and will be alongside three other Seagulls for NSW Country - captain Nick Foster, Jeff Goninan and Logan Weston.
The right-arm paceman has claimed 28 wickets at an average of 12.08 across all appearances so far this summer, including best figures of 6-22 in first grade.
McTaggart also enjoyed an English stint during 2023, lining up for Brondesbury in the Middlesex premier league. "Funnily enough I stayed 250 metres away from where my dad grew up," he said