Storm v Titans
THE Melbourne Storm might not seem as dominant as they have been in the past few seasons but they are still a very impressive side and will not let their streak of consecutive minor premierships end without a fight.
After travelling to North Queensland to dismantle the Cowboys the Storm return home to take on the Titans, who were impressive in their last start as they defeated the Bulldogs 20-12 without Scott Prince.
But they will once again be without their general – and while Preston Campbell filled in brilliantly, the loss of Prince for this game is crucial.
The Storm still have big guns all over the park and while they have once again named Cameron Smith at hooker and Greg Inglis at five-eighth, given Willie Isa’s return from suspension don’t be surprised to see Smith start at no.6 and Inglis push into the three-quarter line to begin the match. It was a ploy they used successfully against the Cowboys.
Matt Cross has also been added to the bench which currently seats six men.
The Titans are as per last week, with the addition of Josh Graham to a five-man bench. That means William Zillman remains at fullback, with Campbell at half.
Melbourne are currently running fifth, equal on competition points but three differential points behind the third-placed Titans.
Watch out Storm: Titans fullback and new recruit William Zillman will be no doubt bursting to prove himself as a custodian, especially against Billy Slater.
In his last full season in 2007, Zillman averaged 136 metres a match and made 12 line breaks, scoring nine tries despite being a rookie. He has already scored twice this season, with two line breaks, despite spending the first two matches on the bench for the majority of the match.
In open space there aren’t many better sights than both Zillman and Slater, so fans could be treated to some dazzling kick-returns.
The Storm might be better off kicking to the wings rather than giving Zillman free rein.
Watch out Titans: Melbourne will look to target Titans winger Chris Walker at any opportunity after a less-than-thrilling return to the top grade last weekend.
Walker, a former Origin player, was outplayed by the youngster Kevin Gordon on the other flank and might have trouble holding onto his spot in future weeks if his defence continues to lack starch. Some 57.1 per cent of his attempted tackles were ineffective against the Bulldogs, making him a prime target for the Storm attack here.
Melbourne have scored twice as many tries heading to the left than they have going right so far this season, so it all fits into place for an assault on the former bad boy.
Where it will be won: Class. The Storm just have too much of it, too many class players, for the Titans to contend with.
While the likes of Luke Bailey, Campbell, Mat Rogers and Anthony Laffranchi are world class themselves, their side just won’t be good enough to handle the likes of Smith, Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson etc.
Olympic Park is a graveyard for most teams and for the Titans it’s been two trips down that have each resulted in bloody massacres. It would be nice to be wrong but this game could be another blow-out for the Gold Coast to have burned into their psyche.
It will take some serious defensive muscle against Inglis in particular for the Gold Coast to compete.
The Titans’ big guns will all also need to be in A+ form throughout. But it’s probably too early in the season for them to be as fluent as they’ll need to be.
The History: Played 3; Storm 2, Titans 1. The Titans actually shut the Storm out last time the two teams met with an 18-0 victory – but that was with several Origin stars missing. In the two games at Olympic Park, the Storm have annihilated the Gold Coast by a combined total of 94-10.
Conclusion: The Titans need a minor miracle to take down the Storm in Melbourne.
Even with Scott Prince the side would have been up against it but without him they face a monumental task. The side may have won without him last week but that was just the third time in 11 games.
They should get closer than during their past two trips to Victoria, but coming out on top is unlikely. Stick with the Storm – unless you like living well and truly on the wild side.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Russell Turner; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.