OPINION: NZ Warriors kick-off their season on Saturday at their new 'home' venue Central Coast Stadium against Gold Coast Titans.
They welcome a host of new faces into their squad this season and shape as genuine top-eight contenders.
Well, where do we start? The struggles of last season have been well documented and the ordeal tested the club's resolve like nothing else in their history.
Seems all doom and gloom doesn't it?
But last season would have made them more resilient, both on and off the field. This was evident at the end of the season, when they made a late, spirited push for the finals.
We also saw positive glimpses of what the future may bring. The halves pairing of Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita started to flourish, while the likes of Paul Turner and Adam Pompey showed potential.
The team will be far more settled off the field this year. Families have joined players and some staff, while they've been together as a group - bonding and training - since the start of January.
Their camp situation provides the perfect environment for the seven new signings, as well as younger players, to gel and build a strong team culture.
New coach Nathan Brown and chief executive Cameron George have said there are no excuses this season. They don’t want any handouts, the participation awards or the pats on the back.
Will the forward pack live up to the hype?
Fair play, the recruitment team deserve a hat-tip here.
If there's one thing Warriors fans should be excited about going into 2021, it’s the potential of this forward pack. Tongan powerhouses Addin Fonua-Blake and Ben Murdoch-Masila add some force and muscle that those fans have been crying out for.
Kane Evans brings a different dynamic to the pack, with speed and height.
In addition, Bunty Afoa returns, after missing the entire 2020 season with injury, as does Leeson Ah Mau, also injured for much of last year.
Eliesa Katoa proved he’s up to first-grade standard in his rookie season, as did Jamayne Tounua-Brown, so watching how they kick on will be interesting, with the experience they now have around them.
For good reason, this is the most talked about forward pack in the competition
How will the hookers hold up?
This could be a cause for concern as the season goes on. Karl Lawton will miss most of the season with an Achilles injury, so Wayde Egan has no choice, but to take the distribution duties by the scruff of the neck.
Brown insists Egan can be an 80-minute hooker, which is a tough job for an entire season.
Both Egan and Lawton showed what they could do last year, but with burden firmly on Egan, will it be too much? What if he goes down for a few weeks?
Among others, Jazz Tevaga and Bailey Sironen can do a job, but with Tevaga especially, taking them away from their natural positions could prove costly.
Players to watch
Chanel Harris Tavita
Stand-in coach Todd Payten urged the young half to "be mean" last year, directing players around the park and barking orders.
Now in his third season, he has a settled partner in Kodi Nikorima and 26 first-grade appearances under his belt.
After playing in the shadow of Blake Green until halfway through last season, Harris-Tavita must now take control.
He's been open about it himself and there's no reason he can't. If he does, he could really come into his own this season.
With first-choice wingers Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a missing part of last season, Pompey was one of those thrust into the spotlight sooner than he would have anticipated.
By and large, he ticked all the boxes, with five tries and 13 appearances.
He's strong, powerful, skillful and with another pre-season under his belt, he'll surely challenge the older heads for gametime.
On paper, there's every reason to be optimistic that this side can make the playoff eight.
They have the flair of skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (for now), as well as plenty of options at wing and centre.
Their new additions in the forwards will make them hard to handle up front and give them a bit of mongrel that Todd Payten started to install in the side.
Off the field, they have a clear plan as to what will happen, unlike last year, when every week, the situation seemed to change.
In fact, the lack of travel across the Tasman could well help them, especially as the season progresses.
This team is more than capable of making the eight, but a good start and momentum is crucial.
Get the teething issues right and the Warriors will be in the mix, come September.
Bunty Afoa, Leeson Ah Mau, Tom Ale, Josh Curran, Kane Evans, Addin Fonua-Blake, Jackson Frei, Tohu Harris, Eliesa Katoa, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Jack Murchie, Bayley Sironen, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Jazz Tevaga
Euan Aitken, Rocco Berry, Wayde Egan, David Fusitu’a, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Peta Hiku, Karl Lawton, Ken Maumalo, Marcelo Montoya, Kodi Nikorima, Sean O’Sullivan, Hayze Perham, Adam Pompey, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), Paul Turner
James Regan is a Newshub sports reporter. Join us at 5pm Saturday for live updates of the Warriors v Gold Coast NRL season-opener