Titans v Storm
An upset win by the Titans would have massive repercussions at both ends of the premiership ladder; a surprise victory minus injured skipper Scott Prince would muddy the waters concerning this season’s wooden spoon as well as breathe new life into the race for the minor premiership, leaving the Storm just a win in advance of the Sea Eagles (should Manly take down the Eels) with just three games to play.
However, an anticipated Storm victory – which would equal their longest winning streak of 11 – would all but secure the minor premiership for Melbourne and leave the Titans odds-on to be left holding the dreaded timber cutlery.
Still, the Titans showed they aren’t willing to go belly-up without a fight when defeating the Paul Gallen-led Sharks in the shire last week. Their 20-16 win came just days after club stalwart Preston Campbell announced he’ll be hanging up his boots at season’s end and was achieved minus the attendance of coach John Cartwright (post-operative illness) for the second week running.
Although they face a massive challenge to repel the Storm you can guarantee they won’t fall short on passion – Campbell and fellow foundation team-mate Anthony Laffranchi play their 100th games for the franchise.
Coach Cartwright will have his troops channelling thoughts of 2008 when they kept the Storm scoreless in an 18-nil triumph. Melbourne remain the only side they’ve managed to keep from posting a point in a game.
This week Campbell slots in at halfback for Prince (out for the remainder of the season with a broken arm), with Luke Bailey appointed captain. Clinton Toopi and Greg Bird, who must pass a late fitness test to take his place, are the new faces on an extended bench.
Meanwhile the Storm welcome back Jesse Bromwich at prop which ushers a domino effect: Sika Manu shifts to the second row, pushing Kevin Proctor to lock, pushing Ryan Hinchcliffe to the bench. Adam Woolnough is out with an Achilles injury until Round 26.
The Titans are really up against it – they’re on the brink of a sixth successive home loss, the first for a Gold Coast franchise since 1996. And they average their fewest points per game against the Storm (just 13).
Watch Out Titans: Billy Slater was outstanding against the Panthers last week, scoring a try and setting up another as well as running 118 metres and making a game-high six tackle busts (he now has 101 for the year). But it was his running work off the ball that really caught the eye – it’s no surprise he’s the league’s leading support player, his 144 supports 46 more than second-ranked Nathan Hindmarsh. He’s made 14 try saves too.
Winger Anthony Quinn sees the Titans as his ‘bunny’ – he’s crossed for six tries in five games including a hat-trick in his only clash at Gold Coast HQ in Round 5 last year (although he’ll be looking for a better result as the Storm lost 20-16).
The Titans may have got the chocolates against the Sharks but they still missed a whopping 40 tackles. They average 36 a game, the fifth most by any side. They’ll get slaughtered here if they can’t do better than average, given the Storm score the most points each week (24) and rank fourth for line-breaks (4.5), while the Titans concede the second-most line-breaks (4.8).
Danger Sign: With no Scott Prince down the other end the Titans will struggle for field position. If that happens Storm halves Cooper Cronk and Gareth Widdop will have a field day. Both have 14 try assists while Widdop leads his side for line-breaks with 14.
Watch Out Storm: Scott Prince leads the Titans for try assists with 14 – the next most is Preston Campbell’s three. Clearly the Titans will need some dazzling solo efforts to cross the stripe.
With such a limited range of attacking options the Storm can expect plenty of “lottery” kicks. Winger Anthony Quinn is the weak link, defusing just 50 per cent of grubbers and 67 per cent of cross-field bombs.
The Titans will play to their limited strengths – that means attacking the left side where they’ve scored 23 tries. They’ll also involve right winger David Mead and centre William Zillman often. The pair lead the way in tries scored with 12 and 11 respectively.
Danger Sign: The Storm need to stay vigilant in defence when the Titans are in possession between 20-50 metres out from the try line. This is their ‘go zone’ – they’ve crossed for 16 tries from plays initiated there, incredibly the second most by any side. (It still looks a mismatch though, given the Storm have leaked a league-low two in that section of the field.)
Plays To Watch: Luke Bailey (127 metres) and Greg Bird (132 metres) rallying the troops with gusto; Anthony Laffranchi searching out his 33rd try in his fourth-last game for the Titans to break away from Mat Rogers and become their record tryscorer; more ball-on-a-string finishes from winger David Mead; Billy Slater’s busts; Cameron Smith’s relentless assaults from the ruck; Cooper Cronk taking on the defence and passing inside to forward supports close to the Titans’ try line.
Where It Will Be Won: The weight of statistics. The Storm make the second fewest errors (9.9), the Titans the second most (12.6). The Storm complete their sets of possession 78 per cent of the time, way ahead of the Titans’ average of 71 per cent. Most tellingly though the Storm head all teams for points scored (23) and fewest points conceded (11.3) while the Titans are exact opposites, scoring the fewest points (15) and conceding the most (25).
The History: Played 6; Titans 3, Storm 3. Melbourne smashed the Gold Coast 40-12 at AAMI Park in Round 2. But the Titans are unbeaten in the two clashes played at Skilled Park.
Conclusion: We don’t condone or encourage gambling… but feel free to bet the farm on a Storm win. The only doubt is the winning margin. Hats off to the Titans if they can limit the damage to 20 points.
Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Allan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Michael Wise; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm (viewer’s choice), delayed 9.20pm.
* Stats: NRL Stats