LACHLAN Fitzgibbon does not need to refer to his Bachelor of Construction Engineering degree to appreciate that building something to last requires solid foundations.
For Fitzgibbon and his Newcastle Knights teammates, that means rolling up their sleeves in the heat of summer to lay the platform for the long winter ahead.
And the 26-year-old back-rower has no doubts that the sixth pre-season of his NRL career has been the most intense, as new coach Adam O'Brien strives to instil much-needed physical and mental toughness into his players.
"You think every pre-season is the hardest one, but this has been another level," Fitzgibbon told the Newcastle Herald.
"I think everyone will tell you the same thing."
Fitzgibbon looks back on last season as an opportunity missed. Newcastle won 10 of the 21 games in which he played - a vast improvement on the first four years of his career, which delivered only 12 wins from 41 games.
But it was the games they didn't win, in the countdown to the play-offs, that remain the overriding memory.
"Whether you lose by 50, or you lose by two, it still hurts," Fitzgibbon said.
"I think it was just the way we lost those couple of games, especially against the Tigers and that last round against the Panthers.
"It was more than disappointing, it was inexcusable. The way we played was embarrassing. We don't want to be tossing up anything like that this year."
From an individual perspective, Fitzgibbon found the dynamic form he had shown in the previous two seasons elusive.
After scoring 17 tries in 2017 and 2018, last year he managed five. His line breaks dried up from 12 in 2018 to two last year.
"Personally I think my form was pretty relative to the team's form," he said.
"I had some good periods and some not-so-good times.
"I had a bit of an injury run there for a while, that I had to deal with. I definitely didn't finish off how I wanted to.
"And that's probably how our season went as a club.
"We had a big win in round one, then we crashed a bit, and then we had that run for about two months where we looked unbeatable.
"Then of course it was disappointing the way we finished the year. And that was a bit like my own form. It kind of ebbed and flowed, and that's something I want to rectify this year."
The South Newcastle junior says a "consistent trajectory" is his No.1 goal in 2020.
"Hopefully we can start off the year pretty strong, and if we're winning games, people might forget about what happened at the back end of last year," he said.
"We need the fans and the crowd to get behind us, so hopefully we can give them something to cheer about and win more games than we lose this year.
"Our goal is to make the play-offs, and if we can do that I think it would be a good result."