THIS time last year, Luke Cuff stunned onlookers, and himself, to finish second in the Queensland ironman final.

But now the 21-year-old is among the marked men, regarded by many as the next big thing.

With a maiden Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Ironman Series under his belt, in which he finished a respectable ninth overall as the youngest competitor, Cuff is a genuine threat at this year's state championships.

And in an ominous sign for rivals at Maroochydore this weekend, Cuff and his club mates look even more likely this time around.

"That (second placing last year) was definitely a bit of a shock to me," he said.

"I wasn't really going into the state titles expecting that result and I was really happy when I came away with it.

"And the Mooloolaba guys have only grown (since then).

"We've all been working with each other towards bigger and better things.

"So I'm looking forward to the individual and team races this weekend."

INDEED, the Michael King stable should be hard to beat at a beach they train at several times per week.

Reigning series champion Ali Day, in-form Matt Poole, up-and-comer Matt Bevilacqua and former world youth champion Cuff are just some of the real contenders from that club.

The Gold Coast raiding party is set to include six-time Australian champion Shannon Eckstein, along with defending champion Ky Hurst.

But Cuff is hopeful, particularly if the conditions are right.

"I'm not putting too much pressure on myself but in saying that, I love a good open beach break," he said.

"I can't wait to have a race in some surf. Even though Kirra tossed up a bit of surf last year, it should hopefully be a bit more even across the whole bank (at Maroochydore)."

Cuff hails from Kurrawa where conditions are generally similar to Maroochydore.

And the fast and furious format at state championships should help his cause.

"This short, sharp racing, it suits me to a tee, so I'm not going to rule myself out," he said.

Cuff said he is arguably the fittest he has been but if there is one concern, it's the strain of a long season.

Cuff competed at the world championships last year before doing the ironman series and multiple races within the Summer of Surf.

"It's really tough to put 11-12 weekends of racing together and still come out on top and at your best (for the state titles and next month's Aussies)," he said.

"But I think I've done everything I can (to be prepared)."

Meanwhile, Noosa Heads' Jordan Mercer will attempt to defend her Queensland ironwoman crown.

The 21-year-old is coming off the back a stirring ironwoman series in which she finished fifth overall.

She will hope to test the likes of series champion Liz Pluimers and Rebecca Creedy. Courtney Hancock withdrew during the week with injury.



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