Melbourne is the benchmark: Cartwright

POPULAR opinion suggests Melbourne may have lost their aura, but Gold Coast coach John Cartwright isn’t falling for such nonsense – insisting last year’s losing grand finalists are still the team to beat.<br><br>The Titans head south on Saturday night looking to make it three from four this season but Cartwright is under no illusions as to the magnitude of the task at hand.<br><br>“I still think they are the best side in the competition, they’re the benchmark,” Cartwright told NRL.com.<br><br>“They’ve probably just got more match-winners than anyone.<br><br>“They’ll be in a game that’s tight and then one of their stars will run the length of the field and score.<br><br>“If they do that two or three times a game, the game is gone.<br><br>“The Cowboys last week was the perfect example of that – Billy Slater ran 60 metres then Greg Inglis ran 80 metres and the game was over.<br><br>“People tend to look at the players they’ve lost but they should be looking at who they’ve been able to keep.<br><br>“They still have their five stars right across the park and have always had good, young kids coming through.<br><br>“That hasn’t changed.”<br><br>Making Cartwright’s task this weekend more difficult is the absence of halfback Scott Prince through injury, the Queensland and Australian representative having played such a huge role in his side’s success over the past few seasons.<br><br>The Titans had won just two from 10 games without Prince before this season but they have taken confidence from last week’s win over the Bulldogs with Preston Campbell wearing the No.7 jersey.<br><br>“That was a big area that we worked on through the off-season: everyone being more accountable and everyone taking more responsibility with ball-in hand,” Cartwright said.<br><br>“It was pleasing to see against the Bulldogs that we scored tries on both sides of the field and we had guys involved in all of our attacking raids.”<br><br>Campbell himself provides an interesting case-study this season.<br><br>He joined the club in 2007 as a fullback – having spent most of his time at Penrith in the halves – but proved a match-winner at halfback last week.<br><br>And the arrival of classy custodian William Zillman could well mean that Campbell spends more time roving this season than he does in his favoured No.1 jersey.<br><br>“I think that will be the case,” Cartwright said.<br><br>“There is no pre-set plan and you can’t make one – who would have thought Preston would be playing halfback in Round 3 of the competition?<br><br>“The beauty of it is that we’ve got depth there and whether we’ve got injuries in the one, six or seven, we’ve got an extra guy there that can rotate around and cover it.<br><br>“That’s all I’m looking at right now.<br><br>“If we get through Melbourne tomorrow injury-free and ‘Princey’ is back then we have a nice selection problem the following week.”<br><br><b>Late news</b><br><br>- Prince told NRL.com he is ‘no chance’ of making a surprise return tomorrow night despite Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy claiming he was expecting otherwise. Aaron Cannings is expected to be named on the bench in favour of Josh Graham.<br><br>- Cronulla have refused to rule out five-eighth Trent Barrett, who will undergo a late fitness test on Sunday morning following last week’s neck injury.<br><br>- Newcastle prop Danny Wicks will make his season debut against Manly at EnergyAustralia Stadium on Sunday after overcoming a virus.<br><br>- St George Illawarra could field up to five former Broncos in tonight’s clash with Brisbane, with Nick Emmett travelling as 18th man. The others are Darius Boyd, Wendell Sailor, Neville Costigan and Luke Priddis for coach Wayne Bennett’s return home.