When Nathan Brown joins the Warriors as head coach ahead of the 2021 season, he's going to face immediate pressure to perform.
For a team many expected to just go through the motions and make up the numbers when the NRL resumed, the Warriors are overcoming everything thrown at them. In the past month and a half, they've been one of the more impressive teams in the competition – pushing the top echelon and dispatching the lower ranked sides.
They've been doing so while being based away from home and missing several players. For their match against the Parramatta Eels at the weekend, the Warriors could only name 20 players in their initial 21-man squad because that was all they had available. Due to injury, suspension, parent club stand-down orders and players returning home, the Warriors had 18 unavailable.
They still ran the third-placed Eels right down to the final minute of the game – and had Jazz Tevaga not received one of the softer sin-binnings you'll see in the game, it might have been a different story.
In the past seven weeks, the Warriors have a 4-3 record – with their three losses coming against three of the top four teams in the competition, by an average of six points. They've done so with at least five first-choice players unavailable for selection.
Had they not had such a dismal start to the year, their hopes of making the playoffs would still be high. However, with a points differential of –107, they need to win their last three games and hope other results go their way.
Whether they make it or not, what Todd Payten has achieved with the team since taking over in the head coaching role from Stephen Kearney in late June has been something to behold. The playing group have clearly bought in and, after some good performances, have only gained in confidence.
Payten will be at the helm of the North Queensland Cowboys in 2021, knocking back the Warriors offer to link up with the club he helped win a Grand Final in 2015 as an assistant coach to Paul Green.
Seeing what Payten has done for the Warriors, the Cowboys brass surely couldn't have signed Payten up fast enough. He's been able to unlock plenty of potential in the Warriors playing group, both in established and young players, which put the pressure right on the incoming Brown.
Looking ahead to 2021, the Warriors have not made major changes in the playing group. They'll add props Kane Evans and Ben Murdoch-Masila, and centre Euan Aitken who are all handy additions but not the type to drastically change how the squad play the game.
There are still some players whose 2021 contract situations are up in the air, with 10 players off contract at the end of the season, including veteran Adam Blair who has a player option in 2021 should he choose to pick that up.
Veteran centre Peta Hiku has been re-signed for another season. Of the other eight, there are only three who have been consistent first-team members over the past few years – Lachlan Burr, Isaiah Papali'i and Patrick Herbert. Burr recently told media he didn't expect to be at the Warriors in 2021.
Regardless of what happens with those players, the 2021 first grade squad will be in as good a state as it was in 2020 – perhaps even better given the emergence of talented youngsters Chanel Harris-Tavita, Adam Pompey and Hayze Perham, who have all shown they're up to playing at the top level.
The Warriors have shown, under Payten, they're a playoff team – they're just going to run out of time to make that official.
Brown will have a full campaign at the helm. The fans have seen what the team is capable of now, so the message to the incoming coach is a simple one – don't mess this up.