Even a casual watcher of NRL could tell you the Gold Coast Titans played better in the latter rounds of 2020, but an NRL.com Stats analysis reveals Justin Holbrook's men were the equal or better of plenty of top-eight sides over the final two months of the season.
The Titans were the worst or second worst club in eight key statistical areas through 12 rounds, but put up top-eight figures through the final eight rounds to surge to a ninth-place finish.
They finished the season with five straight wins – admittedly four of those against fellow bottom-eight sides – but put up numbers consistent with a top-eight team through that period.
It was a slow start to Holbrook's career as an NRL head coach, with three huge losses to the Raiders, Eels and Cowboys (in the first game back from the COVID break) to start season 2020. An upset win over the Wests Tigers in round four was a false dawn, with more heavy losses to follow and their only further wins in the opening 12 rounds coming against Brisbane and the Warriors.
A 42-6 loss to the Storm at the midpoint of the season was the beginning of the turnaround; they held on for close losses against heavyweights Penrith and the Roosters straight after that before a big revenge win over the Cowboys in round 13 kick-started a big run home.
There were some bright signs in convincing losses to Cronulla and Canberra before five straight wins against the Dragons, Bulldogs, Broncos, Sea Eagles and Knights to close out the year.
Splitting the Titans' season into the opening 12 rounds and the final eight reveals a stark disparity.
The biggest jump was in their average metres, improving by better than 300 metres per game from worst in the NRL to third-best.
Their average points scored and conceded improved dramatically as well, from an average of -14.4 per game to +7.0.
Their missed tackles improved markedly but still with plenty of work to do, from second-worst in the league to fifth-worst. Their error rate was worst in the NRL through 12 rounds and while this also has room for improvement, it dropped by 1.5 per match to 12th-best while their completion rate went from worst to ninth.
That had a flow-on effect to their possession rate, which sat at just 46.6% per game ahead of only Brisbane through 12 rounds but improved to better than 50% over the closing months, seventh-best in the league. However there is still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to spending time in opponents' halves, climbing only from 15th to 13th in territory percentage.
Isolating the ladder for the two periods, the Titans sat in 14th after 12 rounds but a table for just the final eight games puts them in sixth, ahead of eventual finals teams Parramatta, Newcastle and Cronulla who each had a poor finish to the season.
With David Fifita and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui heading a high-calibre off-season signing spree, the signs are positive for Holbrook's men heading into 2021.
Analysing the Titans' 2021 draw