Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans
The Melbourne Storm says they are ‘Playing For Everything’ in 2011 and they certainly backed up the motto with a nice first-up win against Manly.
Now they must keep the intensity flowing as they welcome the Titans to town – and while the Gold Coast boys may have lost their opening fixture to the Dragons they showed plenty of nous of their own and were perhaps a tad unlucky.
Had William Zillman not run into referee Phil Haines, perhaps the Dragons would not have won the match and the Titans would be joining the Storm at 1-0.
But the past is past and the Titans know they cannot afford to drop too far off the pace even at this early stage of the competition.
They have chosen the same side this week, although Mark Minichiello has been added to an extended bench and if passed fit he will play.
The home-side Storm have just a few changes to speak of. Sadly centre Chase Stanley is in need of a knee reconstruction and will miss the season – but he will be replaced by a pretty handy footballer in Beau Champion. Anthony Quinn is also due to return to the side on the wing in place of Justin O’Neill.
They are well aware they need an improved effort to beat the Titans as it is unlikely the boys from the holiday strip will drop as much ball as the Sea Eagles did in Melbourne last week.
Watch Out Storm: Titans back-rower Ashley Harrison is an established Queensland Origin player yet he still doesn’t appear to get as many accolades as he probably deserves. Harrison is a franchise player – someone you can build a team around – because he does all of the things necessary for a team to function well. Against the Dragons he ran for 131 metres, made 47 tackles, scored a try, bumped out two good offloads but perhaps most importantly notched up nine supports. This means he was in great position nine times in the match to receive an offload should it have come – and chances are if it had of come he would have had some line-breaks to his name. Coaches love players who push up in support and Harrison is one of the best.
Danger Sign: If you see big Ash following the ball runner you better send some back-up troops; should he receive the ball he has the size, speed and skill to bust a game wide open.
Watch Out Titans: So the Storm lost Greg Inglis and Brett Finch from their stocks last season… who cares when Billy Slater comes in and can create danger as well as provide it? The Storm fullback is like a fine wine – he seemingly gets better with age and last weekend he proved he can be just as good at providing tries as scoring them. Slater ran for 125 metres but also posted two line-break assists and two try assists. He also added a few clever offloads.
When Slater first used to chime in as the sweep runner on second-man plays a few years ago, he had trouble passing out wide and was really only a major threat if he had found space for himself. But in recent times he has proven adept with ball in hand. His wide, floating cut-out for Matt Duffie’s try last week was precision.
Danger Sign: Slater is dangerous at all times but when you see him in at second receiver you know he is going to try to get on the outside of his man and attract others in. Titans defenders cannot allow him to get on their outside shoulders.
Plays To Watch: Cameron Smith making props make multiple tackles back-to-back; Slater charging through the middle of the ruck as a support player for an offload or inside ball; Gareth Widdop running to the line before popping up a delayed short ball off the hip; Scott Prince grubbering for the edges; super sub Preston Campbell (who plays his 250th NRL game) darting out from dummy-half; Sam Tagataese looking to break Storm players in half with big hits.
Where It Will Be Won: Ball Control. The Storm did well to beat the Sea Eagles last weekend but they won’t always be successful if they keep churning out just a 66 per cent completion rate. Thankfully for them the Sea Eagles were at just 56 per cent. Compare this to the Titans, who remember lost to the Dragons: the Gold Coast completed at 77 per cent and should they do so again they are likely to find themselves well in this match.
The Round 1 players who provided the most errors in these teams were Widdop (three), Cooper Cronk (two) and Dane Nielson (two) for Melbourne and Greg Bird, Luke Capewell, Kevin Gordon, Scott Prince and William Zillman (all two) for the Titans.
The History: Played 5; Storm 2, Titans 3. As one of the few teams to have a winning record against Melbourne, the Titans can enter the match with plenty of confidence. They have won the past two matches between the clubs and three of the past four. They are yet to play at AAMI Park and Melbourne’s two wins did come in Melbourne, but the Titans won the last game in the windy city in 2009.
Conclusion: This will certainly be an intriguing match-up and quite frankly it could easily go either way. While the Storm managed to start with a win and sit in third place on the ladder and the Titans lost and sit in 11th, this shouldn’t discourage you from backing the Titans. They have some real firepower in Scott Prince at half.
But – in saying that – the Storm still have the likes of Cronk, Slater and Smith on their books, and Champion will be champing at the bit to get out there and prove he belongs at his new club.
Perhaps you could throw a dart to decide this one? If pushed we’ll take the home side.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Luke Phillips; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.