JOHN Cartwright’s Titans showed all the guts and courage few thought they were capable of away from their Gold Coast base to dominate the Storm at Olympic Park.
In an error-strewn game played in perfect footy conditions, the Titans made less of them. Their overwhelming weight of possession came on the back of some particularly uncharacteristic dropped balls and mistimed, rushed plays from arguably the most composed team in the NRL.
The Storm was befuddled before kick-off, with centre Willie Isa withdrawing with injury; it forced a reshuffle that saw key ruck playmaker Cam Smith shift to five-eighth and Greg Inglis out to centre, with Ryan Hinchcliffe moving to dummy-half.
It’s a flimsy hypothesis to suggest this was the root of the Storm’s defeat for if true they have a battle ahead in 2009.
Still, by the time Hinchcliffe was given a breather and Smith moved back to his rightful position in the 35th minute, the Titans were up 8-0 and growing in confidence.
The win was only the Titans’ fourth away from Skilled Park in their past 13 attempts and erased the bitter memory of their 44-4 loss at Olympic Park in Round 21 last year.
The Game Swung When… The Titans capitalised on a sustained period of pressure midway through the first section. It started when Storm centre Inglis dropped the ball cold on his 30-metre line on tackle one; a minute later the Titans were within arm’s reach of the line.
Hooker Nathan Friend worked a simple run-around with Brad Meyers before firing a sharp, short flat pass to a steaming Luke Bailey who hit the line straight and at speed. His momentum carried him and the Storm defenders into the in-goal, where Bailey won the ensuing wrestle to plant the ball backwards over his head for a try. With the conversion it was 8-0.
Who Was Hot… Preston Campbell flung himself around like a manic pinball – at times it was like the Titans’ ‘machine’ had released three extra balls as the pint-sized Campbell, deputising in the no.7 for the injured Scott Prince, appeared to be everywhere at once. He put his body on the line time and again, with his gutsiest effort a selfless retrieval of a bouncing bomb with the opposition (down 16-6) bearing down on regaining the pill with 11 minutes to go; he was smashed and had to be assisted from the field with a calf injury.
Luke Bailey was a raging bull with 26 hit-ups for 196 metres and a try; William Zillman was Ben Hornby-like in his consistency at fullback, but with a heap more impact with his kick-returns (100 metres).
Winger Kevin Gordon refused to be intimidated by the Storm’s big defenders (17 runs for 124 metres). They tried their best to crunch him but he remained firm. Made some great defensive reads too.
Dallas Johnson made an NRL record 35 tackles in the first half – and 63 overall from just 65 minutes.
Who Was Not… Billy Slater’s hands were a liability for the Storm; his errors (only two officially but they were clangers) released the pressure valve the few times the Storm were threatening (like at 16-6 down but on the attack in the 58th minute).
Mat Rogers had a mixed game. Some short, angled chip kicks found Billy Slater on the full (not good). His little look at the opposition saw a turnover that immediately yielded the Storm with their try.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Well, maybe heard. The Olympic Park crowd were booing after the game. At the Titans for winning? At the refs? At their heroes for losing? Who knows.
Also, ‘goofy-footer’ Cam Smith booted a right-footed clearing kick that made him look like a pub footy player; it had as much force as a three-year-old throwing a sheet of A4 paper. But at least he didn’t have an air swing…
The Titans arrived in swarms to twice snuff out dangerous attacking raids at the death. There were four and five men on hand to bundle wingers Steve Turner and Anthony Quinn onto the Olympic Park running track.
Big Joseph Tomane ran like an NFL linebacker after receiving a Billy Slater inside ball inside his own half in the 51st minute. He ran the defence in and out before getting to the try line – where Nathan Friend tried to jolt the ball free. And it worked. But the video ref ruled Tomane’s forearm regained contact with the ball before applying pressure on the ground. It looked dodgy. And any other year it would have been ‘no try’. But things have changed in 2009. Good or bad, right or wrong, get ready for more of the same.
Injuries… Ryan Hoffman (Storm) and Ashley Harrison (Titans) clashed heads in the 18th minute. Not that Hoffman will remember – although maybe the bloodstains on his jersey will tweak his memory. Both returned for more game time but will be sore.
It takes a lot for little Preston Campbell to leave the field – his calf will be monitored before he’s named to play the Cowboys next week.
Bad Boys… Not much. Just a bit of push and shove after an incident in the Storm’s in-goal when young winger Kevin Gordon was manhandled by Cooper Cronk. It stopped the youngster from grounding the ball for a try. (See Refs Watch.)
Although centre Brett Delaney was later charged with dangerous contact by the NRL match review committee; with an early guilty plea he’ll be free to play at the weekend.
Refs Watch… Cronk hit Gordon around the chin to try to hold him up. He kept him in a ‘sleeper hold’ and threw him on his back so the winger couldn’t ground the ball. And he applied the hold for several seconds. It was ruled no try.
It was also apparently ruled a legal move. But anywhere else on the field it most definitely would have been a penalty. Surely there isn’t one rule for the field of play and another for the in-goal?
There isn’t – like Delaney, Cronk was later hit with a dangerous contact charge but with an early guilty plea he’ll be free to play next week.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Preston Campbell (Titans): Every time there was a danger moment he rescued the Titans with great composure; 2 points – Luke Bailey (Titans): Coach Cartwright wound him up, pointed him at the playing arena – and he was still ready to go at full-time; 1 point – Dallas Johnson (Storm): Made 63 tackles and 63 metres in 65 minutes. Neat.
Titans 18 (L Bailey, C Walker tries; M Rogers 5 goals) def Storm 6 (J Tomane try; C Smith goal) at Olympic Park. Crowd: 11,698.