Garth Brennan believes the under-20s graduates fighting for places in the NRL side will finally deliver the Gold Coast a team they can call their own.
The Titans will open their 2019 campaign with a trial against North Queensland at Sunshine Coast Stadium at 5pm on Saturday, the team expected to be dominated by players who have come through the under-20 system in recent years.
A member of the club's 2016 Auckland Nines squad, Brian Kelly will make his senior debut for the Titans having spent the past two Telstra Premiership seasons with Manly. The likes of Morgan Boyle, Moeaki Fotuaika, Max King, Phillip Sami, Darius Farmer and Jaxson Paulo also likely to get a chance to impress Brennan in the first hit-out of the year.
Entering their 13th season, the Titans' record for bringing local juniors through to the top grade has left a lot to be desired.
Club captain Ryan James and former stars David Mead and Kevin Gordon made the jump from the 20s to first grade in the early years and in more recent times Kane Elgey and Karl Lawton played NRL before leaving to join other clubs.
Like the city itself, the Gold Coast teams that have struggled to gain a foothold since 1988 have been made of predominantly of imports, a cycle that Brennan is desperate to break.
Since signing on as coach towards the end of 2017, Brennan has repeatedly stated his desire to grow the club from within and his first team for this year will be testament to that mantra.
Farmer and Paulo have been given development contracts after making the step up from 20s last year and are two of the nine members of the NRL squad who represented the Titans in the under-20s.
"It's massive and where my vision for this club was always to be. To be made up of predominantly local kids from south-east Queensland and northern NSW," Brennan told NRL.com.
"The catchment area is so big and it's got so much potential with some of the young guys that are playing not only at the Gold Coast but in other clubs around the place.
"I think it's the heartland of rugby league to be honest so it's important for the community to connect and relate to the Gold Coast Titans. There needs to be a large number of local players playing on the roster.
"You're always going to need to recruit from other clubs – hence the reason we signed Shannon Boyd and Tyrone Peachey – but it's important that the mantra for this club is to look in our own backyard first before we look elsewhere.
"Debuting AJ Brimson and Moe Fotuaika last year, those guys who have come through our system, it's showing with my actions that I'm fair dinkum about having a predominantly locally-based Gold Coast Titans.
"Playing NRL is always a great milestone, there's no doubt about that, but to do it in front of your family and friends and represent your home town I think just means that little bit more."
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In Kelly's final year for the Titans under-20s in 2016 he played alongside Brimson, Sami, Boyle and King and with the exception of Brimson – still recovering from shoulder surgery – Kelly now gets the chance to take the field with them in the NRL arena.
Favoured to start the year at right centre, Kelly says he returns to the club a more focused and committed player than the young man who left for an opportunity to play in the NRL.
"I was probably just on the side of having fun and mucking around too much when I left but being down there at Manly was a good little change and happy to be back on the Gold Coast," Kelly said.
"I feel a bit more relaxed and chilled, being comfortable with myself and the blokes around me. I'm more confident and more professional after that transition from the 20s into the NRL.
"It's been good having Dan Ferris (the Titans' strength and conditioning coach). I had him for two years at Manly and now up here as well. He's developed my body and got me fitter and stronger.
"I've probably lost a bit of fat and put more muscle on. I probably put an extra two kilos of muscle on and trimmed down my fat from 20s."
For Brennan, Kelly fit the bill of exactly the type of player he wanted to bring back into the squad.
"He was someone I have always been an admirer of," said Brennan of the Ballina product.
"We were active in going after him for one, because he is such a good player, but he is also a local boy coming home. We were active in the market to go after him and fortunately for us Manly were willing to let him go a year early.
"I thank Dessie (Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler) and the Manly club for allowing Brian to come home early because that's certainly what the kid wanted to do but he was certainly a player we were looking at.
"If we couldn't get him for 2019 we were certainly going to look at him for 2020 and beyond anyway.
"He was very much part of our plans."
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