William Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent, NRL.com
Storm v Titans
A perennial finals contender goes up against a team looking to return to the business end for the first time since 2010.
Just one point separated these sides in the Round 26 corresponding fixture last year, with Storm defeating the Titans at AAMI Park.
Last week was a tale of the opposite for the Storm in 2014: a strong 10-to-nothing start against the Bulldogs looked promising before a last 60 minutes that coach Craig Bellamy labeled as 'rubbish,' in which the Bulldogs piled on six unanswered tries to hand Melbourne its first loss of the season.
A lack of flair in attack was apparent without their skipper Cameron Smith, who missed the loss with back spasms. Smith underwent scans on Monday and while the results remained in-house, the club expects their star hooker to take his place.
The Storm were uncharacteristically uncompetitive in the second half last week, conceding five tries as the Bulldogs scored 40 points – the most points scored against a Melbourne team since Round 18, 2012 (v Raiders).
Bellamy's side would have welcomed the seven-day break after a grueling week that saw them play two games in six days on top of the emotion surrounding Alex McKinnon's injury.
Meanwhile the Gold Coast built on their strong start to the season, improving to 3-1 after a one-point victory over northern counterparts the Cowboys.
Aidan Sezer proved the match winner and was pivotal in attack and the Titans will be poorer for his absence after he succumbed to the quad strain that kept him out of the Round 3 clash with the Raiders. Maurice Blair has been called in to play five-eighth in Sezer's absence against his former club.
If the Titans can return from Melbourne with two points, fans may start finally believing that their team can deliver a season of consistency.
Their side remains unchanged as it aims to make it three wins in a row.
The Storm have named captain Cameron Smith to return, Tim Glasby drops back to 18th man and Ryan Hinchcliffe is set to return to the No.13 – he will play his 150th NRL game while fellow teammate Bryan Norrie will notch up game 100 for the club.
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Watch Out Storm: Is there a player in the NRL on whom his team's fortunes are so reliant? Cameron Smith pulled out of last Saturday's loss to Canterbury in the warm-up due to back soreness and the purple camp will be hoping their captain is fit and ready come Sunday. You have to go back to Round 14, 2011 for the last time the Storm won without Smith – that is seven matches at an average losing margin of 22 points. It's a stat that proves not only the 30-year-old's greatness but also just how important he is to this Storm outfit.
The Storm have historically been a good defensive team however this season opponents have targeted the wings when attacking them. In the last three weeks, opposing right-wingers have scored five tries against them. Young Tonumaipea has been solid in attack for Melbourne but clearly opposing teams are looking to target the 21-year-old at the other end of the field.
Watch Out Gold Coast: You have to go back 11 rounds (Manly in Round 21, 2013) to find the last team to get a win after a Monday night victory. The Titans were the first team to attempt the feat this season but endured a 40-point demolition at the hands of the Tigers. They will be hoping for a much improved effort against much better opposition and given the Titans play five Monday night games this year it will be a hoodoo they need to break soon.
The Titans rank equal first in the competition in the exact areas they wouldn't want to. John Cartwright's side has made 61 errors in four games this season and missed a total of 134 tackles – 31 more than the Melbourne Storm. These are fundamentals of the game that if left unaddressed could be punished by this week's opposition.
Plays To Watch: Albert Kelly's need for speed – the young halfback has just 34 games of NRL experience but is an excitement machine given a bit of space to work in. Aidan Sezer's left foot magic – involved in every Titan scoring play last week, his will be an interesting battle with Cooper Cronk. Waqa wonder – set AAMI Park alight on the left wing against the Knights a fortnight ago, expect more of the same.
Where It Will be Won: Melbourne are a team that thrive on controlling the football. For the first time in 2014, Craig Bellamy's side lost the battle for possession (just 43 per cent) and suffered their first loss of the year last week.
If the Titans want to be in with a chance they have to limit their error count that has hampered them to date. The best way to limit the influence of Cronk and (possibly) Smith is to keep the football out of their hands.
What Are The Odds: The Storm are the shortest-priced team of any with Sportsbet.com.au this week, currently at $1.26 against the Titans. Gold Coast are paying $4. Despite this, money is 55/45 in favour of the Titans! Come game day however expect to see the usual barrage for the Storm.
The History: Played 11; Storm 7, Titans 4. Five of the past six meetings have gone the way of the Storm and the Gold Coast won just one of six trips to Melbourne.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Touch Judges – Luke Potter & Ricky MacFarlane; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Reece Williams.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
The Way We See It: Statistically this looks to be a very even contest. So much depends on the fitness of Cameron Smith but with champion hooker expected to play the Titans may have to wait a little longer for their second-ever win in Victoria. Storm by 4 points.
• Statistics: Champion Data.
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