LEWIS Italiano has "worked too hard" to get the No.1 goalkeeper spot at the Newcastle Jets to open the door for someone else by not being in top shape.
That was one of the driving factors behind the gloveman's strict fitness regime during the COVID-19 enforced suspension of the A-League.
Italiano, wife Tiffani and one-year-old son Levi spent the majority of the shutdown in his home town, Perth.
"We all went through that stage where it was a bit difficult," Italiano said. "You to do your best to keep your standards up for when you do come back. I live in the gym and try to keep everything together - core, shoulders, hips. I had a training program to follow as well. Most of my running involves short, sharp movements. Towards the end when things loosened up, I rang a couple of goalkeeping mates and we got together at a park."
With Glen Moss bringing forward his retirement, Italiano is the only senior keeper on the books. Teenage scholarship-holder Noah James is the back-up for the four remaining games.
Jets management appear likely to bring in another senior shot-stopper for next season, with James to continue his development in youth league.
Italiano signed a two-year extension in April and plans to use the competition restart to cement his place as first choice.
"I have been fighting for this spot for a very long time," the 29-year-old said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to keep it. Nothing changes for me. I don't change the way I train or do things around the club.
"This is the first two-year deal I have signed. I was in New Zealand [at Wellington Phoenix] for a few seasons but did it year by year over there. To get that reassurance from the club was great. It shows they have faith in me and I have to pay them back."
The Jets have been back in training just over two weeks and restart the campaign against Sydney FC at Jubilee Stadium on July 21.
"It is only a four-week turnaround which is kind of a good thing," Italiano said. "It's very rare that you have that much time off and come in for a four-week preseason, then go into three or four weeks of games.
"Mentally it is a good thing. You come back in firing.
"With the goalkeepers we have Chris Bowling, who we have had for the past couple of years. It is pretty much the same stuff we do day-in, day-out. With Noah, yes he is a young boy, but we have all been there. You have to show how to do things the right way and set a good standard for yourself.
"When you come back, for the first couple of days you try to get the hand-eye co-ordination going. The speed of it. You train the way you play, so hopefully when you step out on that field in the next four games that you are the same if not improved."
Italiano was integral as the Jets won three of the last four before the break to revive their play-off hopes. Sydney are the runaway leaders but the keeper is confident of a bold showing.
"Sydney have been in good form and we were in good form as well," Italiano said. "It will be interesting to see how we go. We will go down there and try and come back with three points because we are still trying to make the finals."