Titans v Storm Preview

Titans v Storm
Skilled Park
Friday 7.35pm

Wow. Sometimes it is all you can say about the Melbourne Storm, who for about half a decade now have been the epitome of rugby league excellence. But the Gold Coast Titans’ home record yields its own ‘wow factor’, presenting fans with a massive start to Round 5.

While the Melbourne side are reigning champions and new premiership favourites after a clinical 17-4 dismissal of St George Illawarra last weekend, the Titans have built a fortress at Skilled Park, losing just two of the past 15 games at the venue.

The Storm are the only undefeated team left in 2010, putting them clear at the head of the table, while the Titans come into the match with a 3-1 record having tasted defeat for the first time at the hands of the Cowboys in Townsville last Saturday night.

The loss dropped them to fourth on the ladder and raised a question about their ability to maintain a lofty status while Scott Prince remains out injured.

While Prince will not be back for this clash, Anthony Laffranchi will be, having been a late withdrawal against the Cowboys. His return pushes Sam Tagataese back to the bench, which now faces a one-man cull on game day.

In a major milestone, Titans lock Ashley Harrison is celebrating his 200th first grade match.

The Storm were brilliant against the Dragons, suffocating the life out of them before killing them off with some scintillating plays. If they retain this type of intensity throughout the year, a fifth straight grand final is on the cards.

It’s not often you dare tamper with perfection; Craig Bellamy hasn’t, naming an unchanged side to travel to the Gold Coast.

Watch out Titans:
Melbourne have had plenty of success attacking the right side of the field so far in 2010, which is a concern for the home side considering Greg Inglis (out of form) and Ryan Hoffman (injured) are usually making all sorts of inroads on the left side of the field and probably will again at some stage this season.

The Storm have scored eight tries in 2010 on the right side of the field, compared to just three on the left, so while Joseph Tomane and the right-side defenders took a beating last week, this week it might well be the boys on the opposite side getting hammered.

Six of those eight right-side tries have come on the fringe of the ruck (if you saw Billy Slater’s scintillating screamer against the Dragons you can picture it, so the edge defenders especially must be awake.

Of course, this doesn’t give the Titans’ right-side defenders a reprieve. Sooner or later Inglis will ignite the left-side Melbourne attack – and after viewing what Willie Tonga did against the Titans last weekend, this could be the match.

Watch out Storm: If Preston Campbell has been doing his homework during the week he will have noticed the Melbourne boys have a problem cleaning up chip kicks. The will-of-the-wisp halfback will, at some stage in the match, look to ‘dink’ one over the top for himself or a chaser.

Currently the Storm have defused just 33 per cent of chip kicks, leaving them one of the poorest teams in the NRL in the category.

Where it will be won: Clinical efficiency is what will get it done here. While this lands the match seemingly into Melbourne’s lap, it is not as clear-cut as it sounds.

The Gold Coast are gaining more metres per match and if they can dominate in this way they will give themselves enough chances to crack the Storm’s brick wall defence. The Gold Coast averages 1356 metres per game compared to the Storm’s 1155 metres, so they have a base to set up a victory.

They will still need somebody to step up and create tries from the good field position – something the Dragons struggled to do last week.

The match will also hinge on the success of the Titans’ attempts at second-phase play. The Storm rarely off-load and have just 35 so far this season, as they play the tuck-it-up-the-jumper and wait-to-you-crack styles of footy. The Titans aren’t prolific off-loaders either, but they do have 54 so far this year. And when they get them cranking, their backs seem a little more dangerous. The home side needs to find the balance between popping a pass and reducing potential errors.

The history: Played 4: Titans 2, Storm 2. The Gold Coast surprised everyone by beating the Storm in Melbourne last year, evening up the overall tally between the clubs. The two sides have met just once at Skilled Park, with the Titans winning 18-0 in 2008 against Storm side racked by Origin call-ups. The two wins for the Titans were by an average 15 points… while the two wins by the Storm were by an average 42 points.

Conclusion: Just how much petrol did Melbourne use in the game against the Dragons? This could be decisive – but even so, the lean is towards the Storm, particularly while Scott Prince is still missing for the Titans.

Skilled Park has plenty of bones in the graveyard. But big occasions and stadiums don’t phase the Storm, and they look likely to get the job done here.

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Jared Maxwell; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 9.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.