The story of the Titans' 2020 season was the blinding finish as they won their final five straight to surge to ninth on the ladder, while the question for 2021 is whether that was actually a sign of things to come.
In the first season of Justin Holbrook's NRL coaching career, things got off to a rocky start with three huge losses against the Raiders, Eels and Cowboys to start the year.
A hard-fought win over the Wests Tigers was their only victory in the first six rounds, with the side sitting in 14th place at 3-9 after 12 rounds.
There were plenty of disruptions through form, injury and other issues.
Prop Shannon Boyd played just one game before being forced into retirement by injury, English centre Kallum Watkins started well but returned home during the COVID layoff for family reasons, Dale Copley suffered a long-term pectoral injury, playmaker Tyrone Roberts was hardly sighted with an ongoing Achilles problem.
There was a three-way revolving door at hooker all year, big-money back-rower Bryce Cartwright played just seven games and star fullback AJ Brimson was sidelined until round 12 (though finished the season in imperious form).
Among the disruption were plenty of positives.
Jamal Fogarty evolved from a journeyman reserve-grader to a bona-fide NRL halfback and leader; Brimson and Moeaki Fotuaika evolved from promising up-and-comers to Origin stars; Ash Taylor and Tyrone Peachey rediscovered their mojo; while players like Jaimin Joliffe, Beau Fermor and Erin Clark went from virtual unknowns to valuable first-graders.
The Titans' 2020 season in review
Of course the other big story heading into 2021 is the glittering recruitment drive that has delivered Holbrook two rising superstars among the five in-demand players headed to the Gold Coast.
The 2021 outlook
Those above-mentioned rising stars are David Fifita and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui. Both are Origin players and the latter is coming off a premiership win at Melbourne.
Former Knights lock Herman Ese'ese, ex-Warriors centre and goal-kicker Pat Herbert and rising utility forward Sam McIntyre from the Wests Tigers round out the impressive recruitment drive.
Based on 2020 performances, the Titans have netted the second-easiest draw on paper of any club for 2021. They only face the Roosters, Panthers and Eels once each and have double games against the Broncos, Bulldogs and Cowboys.
Four of their first five games, and eight of their first 11 games, are in Queensland, and there's only one five-day turnaround all season. It's about as friendly as draws can get so there will be no excuses there for the Titans.
The burning question
Was it a fluke? Was the Titans' big run home a genuine turnaround in form, or a flash in the pan from a side with nothing to lose taking advantage of some weary and injured opponents?
Titans equal club-record win streak
In what is the second year of Holbrook's tenure and with some big-name additions, Titans fans have plenty of reason to hope it was a sign of things to come but the players need to prove it on the field.
The stat that gives you hope
Over the final eight rounds of the 2020 season, the Titans won six games and were largely dominant in several important facets of the matches. The ladder for just that portion of the season puts the Titans in sixth, but the most eye-catching stat for that 40% of the season is the club's running metre tally.
Gold Coast were third best of all clubs over that eight-week period, gaining 1743 metres per game. On average they ran 305 metres per game more than their opposition. Sure, five of those six wins were against fellow bottom-eight sides but the momentum they generated was enormous.
What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise
New signings Tino Fa'asuamaleaui ($574k) and David Fifita ($710k) are the most popular Titans in Fantasy this year, with Fifita the standout option after scoring 54 points a game last year and 58 when playing his usual 80-minute role.
AJ Brimson ($667k) could be among the top-scoring players at winger/fullback this season after a superb run of form last year. Jamal Fogarty ($666k) and Brian Kelly ($464k) could both be good value keepers as well, especially if the Gold Coast rack up plenty of tries.
This is a big year for a few big names at the Titans. There were already some big-name departures last year and now the likes of Ash Taylor, Tyrone Peachey, Mitch Rein and Anthony Don are off contract with skipper Kevin Proctor's deal subject to a club option for 2022.
It's also a big year for recruits Pat Herbert and Sam McIntyre, who each joined on one-year deals.
Breakout player to watch
Keep an eye out for Maroons under-18s and under-20s rep Treymain Spry this season. The speedy Goodna Eagles junior spent two years in the Roosters system before returning home to Queensland and played five games at centre and wing for the Titans last year.
He will likely start the season behind centres Pat Herbert and Brian Kelly, and wingers Phil Sami and Anthony Don – but rest assured he is keeping the heat on all of them through pre-season and will get a chance at some stage to add to his five career games this year.
"It gives us confidence that what we were doing was working in the right direction and enabled us to train in the same way. We're miles ahead of where we were this time last year. That's where we've got the confidence really because we know we're putting in the work." -Titans hooker Mitch Rein on last year's strong finish
The good, the bad, the likely
The good: Based on the finish to last year and some strong recruitment, finals is definitely the target for the Titans. If things go really well – if the new forwards add plenty of punch, if the likes of Brimson and Fogarty continue their upward trend and things click – top four is not out of reach.
The bad: Despite all the positives, the Titans barely beat a strong team last year. They still need to keep improving to really become a finals team. If the new combos don't click and they don't get a great run with luck and injury a return to the bottom four isn't impossible.
The likely: The Titans should be a pretty good team this season – the question is if they're good enough to make the finals. We have them landing somewhere between seventh and10nth.
Titans in 2021
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