The Titans are spoiling for a recruitment battle with arch-rivals Brisbane at both NRL and development level as a prospective fourth Queensland team shakes up one of rugby league's biggest talent pools.
An organic rivalry round has emerged in round two with Trent Barrett and Ivan Cleary squaring off, Nathan Brown coaching against the Knights for the first time and Gold Coast's million-dollar signing David Fifita taking on his old Broncos teammates.
Canterbury and Penrith's public squabble over Matt Burton after Barrett targeted several Panthers has dominated headlines of late.
But the south-east Queensland rivalry takes the cake given the recent fortunes and trajectories of Friday's opponents, even with the Titans underwhelming round one loss to the Warriors.
A near-sold out crowd of 25,000-plus is projected for the Titans home game which will see Fifita take on Brisbane after his drawn out contract saga dominated much of 2020.
The 21-year-old Maroons star is set to train at full capacity this week again after spending two days in hospital with a skin infection leading into his club debut.
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While the Gold Coast outgunned their Red Hill rivals for Fifita, it's understood the Titans remain among the suitors for rising stars Kotoni Staggs and uncapped back-rower Brendan Piakura.
The two Queensland clubs are also leading the pursuit for Storm hooker Brandon Smith, who is hunting a starting No.9 role next season, though his release for 2022 is contingent on Melbourne being offered a quality player in return.
The Broncos have ramped up their retention bid for Staggs in recent weeks with a bumped up multi-year offer but the Titans' successful signing of Fifita and improvements under coach Justin Holbrook have the club eyeing a change in the region's rugby league narrative.
Titans CEO Steve Mitchell declined to comment on the club's current NRL recruitment plans.
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But with the potential for a second Brisbane side to be green-lit for 2023 by July, Mitchell said the Titans revamped junior pathways and recruitment plans become even more critical after decades of playing 'little brother' to the Broncos.
"If there was another club to come into fruition in Queensland then we've got to get our backyard in order very quickly," Mitchell told NRL.com.
"They will put pressure on us for commercial partners, consumers and members, and then right through to coaches, staff and players.
"If they're close to us then it puts pressure on all of us and means we have to have those foundations right early.
"I think the Broncos with their brand and their legacy of what they've done, they will always be extraordinarily appealing for a young man or woman who wants to play rugby league at the top level.
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"I think they will always have an enormous allure because of their resources and history for young guys.
"We've got to get much better, and we are improving, on what our junior elite programs look like.
"The sophistication of them, the experience of the kid coming through and then the most success we have at the NRL level, the more that endorses the club and the development programs.
"The owners have been doing that for about three years now and we're starting to keep some very talented kids on the Coast where ordinarily a few years ago they might have gone up the road to the Broncos or down to Sydney."
With officials taking a keen interest in the success of Penrith's homegrown juniors and their retention battle to keep their best and brightest, the Titans have struck formal partnerships with the region's biggest rugby league schools.
Rising players at famed NRL nurseries Keebra Park and Palm Beach Currumbin have linked with the club and have access to the Titans facilities and coaching, as does Logan's Marsden State High in what is traditionally Broncos territory.
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Mitchell says the likes of schoolboy rugby talent Jojo Fifita and fellow top 30 squad member Toby Sexton are the first few fruits of the Titans new pathways programs, which will "pay genuine dividends in four to eight years' time."
Off the paddock the Gold Coast have made strides in commercial, online and sponsorship spaces as well.
But at the club's core is what Holbrook and his team put out on the paddock, with last year's late strides away from mediocrity heightening interest in Friday's clash with Brisbane.
"What Justin's doing with that team is the absolute spine of all the off-field work," Mitchell said.
"The culture he's created and work he's done with the playing group it's been special to watch.
"We don't want to be little brother anymore. But we take nothing for granted either. They were strong against Parramatta so we know they'll come down to play.
"We don't want to get in front of ourselves and we know there's still a lot of work to do. But that little brother tag is something we're looking to shed, absolutely."
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