Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook is glad his squad is in a good spot heading into 2021 but knows their improvement this year will count for nothing if they can't continue to build.
The Titans finished 2020 like a house on fire, winning their last five games straight and lifting themselves to ninth after sitting 15th halfway through the season.
Like flicking a switch, they began to dominate most aspects of contests in a manner more reminiscent of a top-four side.
"As the year went on we just got better. We got better with the details of the game, the whole way we played we improved on both sides of the ball, in attack and defence," Holbrook told NRL.com.
"We've got some key guys in and there's a real good buzz around the place. It doesn't guarantee us anything that's for sure but it definitely helps."
Analysing the Titans' 2021 draw
They have been linked to making a play for Cameron Smith if he decided to go around again next year and another Storm hooker, Brandon Smith, in 2022 after he has been given permission to explore his options.
Holbrook said their recruitment officials would definitely look into the option of signing the younger Smith but said he had not spoken to Cameron and was not sure what the former Australian captain planned to do in 2021.
A 36-6 win in Newcastle in round 20 against a side desperately fighting for a home final was a statement game that capped off a rousing second half of the season following some increasingly convincing wins over the Dragons, Bulldogs, Broncos and Sea Eagles.
"The boys finished in a good spot and enjoyed playing with each other and that's the key to winning games," Holbrook said.
"We finished well and now we don't have to start from scratch. We've got a lot of hard work to get done as every team does in pre-season but we're just in a much better place in how we want to play and how we want to go about it and with a few key guys to add to the squad as well.
"It's such an even competition, any side that didn't make the finals are improving their roster and training hard to get into the eight but I am happy with how everything's gone."
Targeting the top sides
Holbrook said while it was good to win those games, other clubs won't consider the Titans as a serious threat unless they can produce that form against the top sides.
"I thought we looked better with our overall game and I'm really happy with how we finished but four of those last five games were against non-top eight teams," Holbrook said.
"Every game's hard to win and we're happy to have won them but we've got to keep it in perspective as well.
"The last win was really important, playing Newcastle. If they had have won that they got a home semi so I think that gave us a lot of credibility and we're happy to win those games but understand we've got a way to go to catch those top sides."
Titans' top five tries of 2020
A roster revamp
The Titans have made some serious moves heading into 2021 with two rising representative stars headlining the recruits list.
While Maroons forward Jai Arrow is a loss and inspirational skipper Ryan James departed after a fine career at the club (albeit with the past two years wrecked by injury), seven other roster spots were cleared, allowing the club to make some waves in the player market.
Tino Fa'asuamaleaui is coming off a premiership win and Origin series triumph, though won't be sighted around training until the new year.
Big-money recruit David Fifita had a much different 2020, joining from the club that finished last and missing the first half of the year injured then damaging his syndesmosis in round 19 and missing Origin as well.
Still, the dynamic Maroons forward shapes as one of the most significant signings in the club's history and is easing his way from the rehab group to the main training squad.
They drew fewer headlines but rising Wests Tigers forward Sam McIntyre, Warriors centre Pat Herbert and Knights lock Herman Ese'ese all shape as valuable pick-ups for Holbrook's squad.
"[Fifita] is slowly joining the main squad, he obviously started the pre-season in the rehab group but he's not far off joining the main group," Holbrook said.
"Sam McIntyre is going great and big Herman. The new boys have fitted in well, it's good."
While the NRL silly season is far from over, Holbrook does not anticipate the Titans having a big say in that between now and round one.
"I think we're nearly done now," he added.
"We might only have one spot free out of the roster so we're pretty much sorted. We're happy with who we've got, if we get another player, great. If not, I'm happy with what we've got."
Happy halves the key
One of the real positives for the Titans over 2020 was the emergence of Jamal Fogarty from a player who was one of the best in the Queensland and NSW state competitions for several years to a bona-fide first-grader.
He took plenty of pressure off halves partner Ash Taylor, who subsequently produced some of his best form.
"What Jamal brought to our team was exceptional and had a big bearing on Ash's game," Holbrook said.
"It took a lot of the organising the team away. Jamal does that naturally and it freed up Ash to play the way he does.
"We finished in a real good spot with those key guys playing well and throwing AJ Brimson into the mix we finished with our key halves playing well and that's the key to winning games."
Finding everyone a spot
Gold Coast's side for round one actually looks fairly settled, with the main questions being around a number of NRL-calibre players jostling for the last few spots in the pack and outside backs.
"We've got lots of quality players who all have to fight to get into the 17 so I'm not completely sold on positions there," Holbrook said.
"Right centre is probably up for grabs for a number of players, we haven't got that locked away but I'm happy with the options we've got that's for sure. We'll work it out early into next year."
Brian Kelly, who has re-signed until the end of 2023, looks safe at left centre with ex-Warrior Herbert vying with the likes of Treymain Spry or potentially Phillip Sami for the other slot, depending how other positions land.
Mitch Rein heads a list of three dummy-halves competing for one spot along with Erin Clark and Tanah Boyd while Tyrone Peachey had sensational end to 2020 at lock, staking a claim for the jersey longer term despite the additions of Ese'ese and Fa'asuamaleaui.
"I'm happy with all those options at hooker. Mitch Rein's a quality hooker and the job Erin Clark can do and young Tanah, I'm happy with any of those three," Holbrook said.
"Peach is a great utility and he finished the season really well as our 13 so I'll have to look at that closely once next season rolls around but I'm happy with our options at nine and happy with Peachey anywhere."