Garth Brennan has warned that there will be "no walk-up starts" for the Gold Coast Titans in his round one side as the second-year coach targets finals football in 2019.
The Titans players returned from their Christmas break on Saturday for testing where Brennan said they showed him how hungry they were to make the top 17 for the home round one NRL clash with the Canberra Raiders on March 17.
The Titans will play two trials in the pre-season, the first against the Cowboys on the Sunshine Coast on February 23 and the main trial against the Brisbane Broncos on March 2 on the Gold Coast.
Brennan signalled to certain players publicly ahead of the start to the 2018 season that they would be in his round one side but all bets are off this year with no-one safe.
"[The round one side] may not be finalised until that last trial," Brennan said at Titans training on Monday.
"The players are aware of that as well and it has shown in how they have approached each training session and their diet. They understand there are no walk-up starts at the Gold Coast Titans like there may have been in the past.
"If you are going to pull that Titans jersey on in round one you are going to have earned it. The guys are looking around the depth of the squad and realising the competition is pretty fierce and they are determined not to give their own teammates an even break.
"I'm really happy with the way some of the guys have come back. Jarrod Wallace is one in particular who has come back in the best shape I have seen him in. I know he is in for a really big year."
In the forward pack alone there are set to be several disappointed players after the round one side is announced.
Wallace, Shannon Boyd, Ryan James, Kevin Proctor and Jai Arrow head a forward pack that includes a rejuvenated Bryce Cartwright and rising stars Moeaki Fotuaika and Keegan Hipgrave. The likes of Morgan Boyle, Max King and Will Matthews are all set to keep the heat on as Brennan gets set to be confronted by some welcome selection headaches.
He has warned that near enough won’t be good enough in 2019.
"Every coach wants to play semi-final football ... and we are no different. We have expectations that we are going to be there in September playing semi-final football," Brennan said.
"If we work hard, do everything that needs to be done and tick every box then we'll end up where we deserve to end up and hopefully that will be in the top eight."
Brennan said he was hopeful that rising star AJ Brimson would be right to play in the trial against the Broncos with a view to lining up against Canberrra in round one, while adding that he was not going to rush the versatile 20-year-old in his return from shoulder surgery.
"I'll give him every opportunity to be right for round one," Brennan said.
"He is flying at the moment. He is training really well and if he gets through the Broncos trial unscathed and there is no risk whatsoever then I'll consider him for round one, but he's got to get through a few hurdles just yet. "