Twelve months after being raging favourites to finish last and with the future of the franchise still under question, the expectations on the Gold Coast Titans have changed considerably.
Surprise semi-finalists last year, the Titans have further bolstered a squad now boasting Jarryd Hayne, Ryan James and two of the hottest young halves in the game with Kevin Proctor, Jarrod Wallace and English pair Dan Sarginson and Joe Greenwood.
In the eyes of many they have transformed from also-rans to genuine premiership threats and with a brand new training centre at their disposal have the roster and administrative support to challenge the Telstra Premiership's top clubs.
Their final trial against the Warriors threatens to have disastrous consequences with six players being forced from the field and Nathan Peats (shoulder), Ryan Simpkins (rib), John Olive (pectoral) and Pat Politoni (broken arm) potentially facing delayed starts to their 2017 season.
Gold Coast footy fans have endured a checkered premiership history but this Titans team has the potential to turn passive supporters into rusted-on Titans tragics.
Gains and Losses
Gains: Dan Sarginson (Wigan), Jarrod Wallace (Broncos), Kevin Proctor (Storm), Paterika Vaivai (Burleigh), Daniel Vidot (Salford), Joe Greenwood (St Helens), Ben Nakubuwai (Storm)
Losses: Nathan Friend (retirement), David Hala (released), Nene Macdonald (Dragons), David Mead (Broncos), Cameron Cullen (Sea Eagles), Luke Douglas (St Helens), Josh Hoffman (Eels), Greg Bird (Catalans), Jed Cartwright (Panthers), Daniel Mortimer (Sharks), Brian Kelly (Sea Eagles), Matt Srama (retirement), David Shillington (retirement), Zeb Taia (St Helens)
What we know
Coach Neil Henry said when he took over from John Cartwright towards the end of the 2014 season that it would take at least two years to remodel the roster into a competitive outfit capable of playing finals football year after year. Anthony Don, Ryan James and William Zillman are the only players still at the club from the start of 'King' Henry's reign and the acquisition of Ashley Taylor to complement Kane Elgey may prove to be the masterstroke that determines the club's future fortunes. But rest assured, if Jarryd Hayne doesn't deliver somewhere near the type of pre-NFL performances he was renowned for, the Titans are no guaranteed finalists in 2017.
English pair Sarginson and Greenwood come into the NRL with strong rugby league pedigrees and determined to push for a place in Wayne Bennett's World Cup squad at the end of the year. There are four young props looking to impress in Morgan Boyle, Kurt Bernard, Max King and Ben Nakubuwai and Tyronne Roberts-Davies has given glimpses of the try-scoring potency through the pre-season that has him in contention for a place on the wing at some stage this season.
Although the stocks are a bit thin in the outside backs the Titans arguably take their deepest squad into a season that they have assembled in their 10-year history. Elgey, Taylor and Tyrone Roberts are all quality halves, the stocks of back-rowers are full to the brim and the imminent signing of Pat Politoni provides excellent back-up to Nathan Peats in the hooker position. If former Australian Schoolboys reps Nathan Davis and John Olive make good on their potential the Titans should have adequate cover in almost every position.
If you were smart enough to have Ryan James on your roster in Round 1 in Fantasy last season you would have happily sat back and watched his $349,000 asking price almost double over the course of 2016. He will set you back $573,000 to start 2017 but as one of only three players to average more than 60 points last season still represents good value for money. After a full pre-season Jarryd Hayne should have a greater role to play and his $200,000 price tag could be a steal while Nathan Peats's high work-rate – provided he stays injury free – and Ashley Taylor's likely inheritance of the goal-kicking duties offer significant upsides.
There is momentum building for the Titans on the Gold Coast and the 2017 squad must take the extra steps forward this year that their fans are expecting. They have a genuine match-winner in Hayne, superb young talents in Elgey and Taylor and a forward pack with equal measures of grit in the middle and potency on the edges. Neil Henry's men over-achieved in 2016; if they do so again this year they could mark their 10th anniversary with a run deep into September.
This article first appeared on NRL.com