Titans v Storm
Cbus Super Stadium
Give the physiotherapist the week off; tell the strength and conditioning coach to lift his own weights and send the dietitian on a rural retreat because this game's going to be won in the mind.
Two nights before a potentially Series-deciding Origin match and with their biggest names watching on from plush hotel rooms 850 kilometres away, both the Titans and Storm could argue they are getting their opposition at the perfect time.
Gold Coast currently own a losing streak that only the Knights and Sharks can be envious of while the Storm's depleted team searches to rediscover a trait that they have been consistently revered for over the past decade: Consistency.
How reshuffled line-ups adjust to playing on a Monday night in winter in what will likely be a small crowd will be decided by which coach can extract the best performances from the men he has left at his disposal.
Since losing Cooper Cronk to an Origin-inflicted broken arm the Storm have suffered heavy defeats at the hands of the Cowboys and Roosters in consecutive weeks and more than anything – with all their big names missing – need to display that trademark intensity across the park.
Coming off a 36-14 defeat at the hands of the Panthers last week in which they gifted the opposition three second-half tries through their own errors, the Titans are in danger of going from the penthouse to the outhouse in very quick fashion.
Four straight losses has the Round 6 competition leaders in 10th position and in danger of losing touch with the top eight and with a halfback battling both a leg injury and confidence.
The usual zip was notably absent from Albert Kelly's performance against Penrith last week and with the least potent attack in the competition in terms of line breaks, the Titans need Kelly asking questions of the defence
at the back-end of every set.
The Storm go in without Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Ryan Hoffman and Will Chambers while the Titans are missing co-captains Nate Myles and Greg Bird with Ashley Harrison and Aidan Sezer still on the injured list.
All that elevates Melbourne ahead of Gold Coast on the competition table after 13 rounds is a seven-point superior for-and-against, giving the bit-part players from both teams a chance to greatly influence their season.
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Watch Out Titans: The greatest fear perhaps that can envelope the Titans this week is the fear of the unknown as the Storm assemble a side with a number of unfamiliar faces. Smith, Slater, Cronk, Hoffman and Chambers are all absent leaving the likes of Hampton, Mann, Fonua and Tonumaipea to try to steady the ship. One area the Storm do boast some world-class potency is up front in the form of Jesse Bromwich. The Kiwi international is averaging more than 145 metres per game and through 13 rounds boasts 22 offloads, a key in breaking down any modern defensive unit. With fellow New Zealand representatives Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor in the starting 13, it's an area of strength for the depleted Storm.
Watch Out Storm: A hamstring injury forced William Zillman to give up his coveted No.1 jersey to David Mead and the understudy took full advantage, parlaying some outstanding performances at fullback into a Country representative jersey. When Zillman was cleared to return to the fold coach John Cartwright used him at centre but after two weeks and a rethink reinstalled his preferred choice from the pre-season to the custodian role. Despite his side's losing streak Zillman's input at fullback has been encouraging, particularly at the attacking end of the field. He has been sniffing around the ruck for any opportunities early in the tackle count and then worrying defenders with his speed on wide sweeping plays deep in enemy territory. He hasn't cut loose just yet, but he's looking like he is just about ready to unleash. The added responsibility of the captaincy won't faze him; indeed it could spur him to even greater heights.
Plays To Watch: By naming him at five-eighth last week – yet returning him to the forward pack prior to kick-off – Storm coach Craig Bellamy obviously believes that there is plenty of skill to go with Tohu Harris's size. Expect the Kiwi back-rower to be heavily involved on the fringes and to create space and time for the likes of Kurt Mann and Young Tonumaipea. The inclusion of James Roberts in his first game for the Titans creates the prospect of an exciting partnership on the right side of the field between the gifted 21-year-old and Dave Taylor. A well-judged Taylor offload to a flying Roberts could be the remedy to the Titans' woeful lack of line breaks.
Where It Will Be Won:
Keep an eye out for the team buses because this shapes as a game purpose built for the side that 'shows up'. Down on both confidence and troops, you simply have to find a way to get it done when you're not at your best. The Titans proved early in the year that they had the ability to grind out a win and with an attack that continues to malfunction, they need to drag the Storm into a good old fashioned slugfest and hope to be the man left standing after 80 minutes.
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The History: Played 12; Titans 5, Storm 7. A golden-point heartbreak for the Titans and a controversial buzzer-beater that left the Storm fuming give a fascinating backdrop to this game as the two most recent meetings between these teams. Unfortunately it will be devoid of both team's representative stars but the stench of desperation is enveloping the Titans in particular. The Titans were victorious 18-12 when the Storm last visited in Round 15 last season but the Storm recorded two big victories in their two visits to Robina prior to that.
What Are The Odds: Nearly 80 per cent of the hold with Sportsbet.com.au has been placed on the Titans – they’ve firmed from $1.53 into $1.45. The Storm have drifted from $2.52 to their current quote of $2.70. No-one is keen on the Storm, even at the line (+6.5).
Match Officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee: Dave Munro; Touch Judges: Brett Suttor & Chris Butler; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
The Way We See It: Both teams come in carrying physical scars but it's the lasting mental hurt that the losers will leave with that has the greatest potential to derail a season.
Monday night's can be a hard time to inspire greatness yet the team that shows the most desperation will be the one who emerges victorious. The Titans' season is slipping away and Storm coach Craig Bellamy is questioning his team's attitude; it's time for one team to turn it around. Titans by four points.