University of Wollongong first grade rugby was brought to a halt by COVID-19 last year but the players are set to return to the Illawarra premier competition this weekend.

UOW Mallee Bulls will face Tech Warratahs on Saturday and coach Dion Miller is confident the team is fit and ready for 2021.

“Because of COVID last year we didn’t have the numbers for a first grade side with boys heading home, which may be looked at as a negative, but it has given some of our older boys plenty of time to give the body some rest and recovery,” Miller said.

“Match fitness is obviously something you can’t train but it’s round one, so we’re at an even playing level.

“Two trial matches have the boys ready for Saturday and I’m confident they’ll be switched on from the kick off on Saturday afternoon.”

While last year’s first grade competition went ahead without the Mallee Bulls, the club was able to fill a second grade side that featured younger players who have stepped up to the top level this season.

Twenty-year-old tight-end prop Nick Halliday is keen to join a strong forward pack.

“Our forward pack have put in the hard yards during the pre-season and we look pretty strong this year,” Halliday said.

“That should take us a long way to starting the season on the right foot.

“Our back line is quick but I think you’ll see our forwards carry it down the field and set it up for them to execute.”

Wollongong is expected to receive 35 to 60 millimetres of rain on Saturday, but Halliday said wet condition won’t throw the Mallee Bulls off their game.

‘“It’s supposed to be pretty wet on Saturday so we’ve been working on keeping it simple and playing our footy close to the ruck,” he said.

We’re still going to stick to our gameplan and the result should sort itself out.”

Kick-off: 12.30pm, Saturday, Saunders Oval, Wollongong.