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Storm v Titans
Saturday 5.30pm

A week ago it looked like the finals puzzle had just about sorted itself out. But a raft of totally unexpected results in Round 25 have thrown more than a spanner or two in the works – and these two clubs were right at the heart of the action.

Melbourne’s form over the past month has been irresistible. The reigning premiers had shaken off a post-Origin slump to hit top gear and when they piled on 62 points against hapless Parramatta a fortnight ago it seemed little could top them. Then Manly tore them apart at Brookvale and suddenly their title defence is looking a tad shaky.

Conversely, the injury-ravaged Titans remained a mathematical chance of reaching the finals but with games against the Sydney Roosters and the Storm to close out their year it seemed they were no hope… until they caused the upset of the year in knocking off the Roosters last Sunday afternoon. Suddenly they can sniff the top eight and head into this week’s clash with their entire season on the line. That’s quite a bit of incentive.

The Gold Coast have been wildly inconsistent in 2013 – much of it out of their control, some of it not – yet they showed last weekend that when they put their heads down they can be mighty difficult to stop. Big Dave Taylor turned in a stellar performance against the Roosters and his old Queensland teammates at the Storm will have noted his sudden return to top form.

The problem for John Cartwright’s men is that they are relying on other results if they are to realistically sneak into the finals. With a for-and-against that is 68 points worse than North Queensland above them, they need either the Cowboys to lose to Wests Tigers in Townsville or the Knights to lose to Parramatta in Newcastle for a win to be enough. Otherwise they’ll need to beat Melbourne by at least 70-odd to make it. Unlikely!

Melbourne find themselves in the interesting position of sitting on exactly the same points and with an identical for-and-against to Manly, so their result and potentially the margin of it will determine whether they play South Sydney or Sydney Roosters in Week One of the finals.

However, of more importance to coach Craig Bellamy will be his boys putting in a good performance both to put the ghosts of their heavy loss to the Sea Eagles behind them and to enter the finals on the right note.

Last year they embarked on an eight-game winning run to take the title. They don’t have that luxury in 2013 so they’ll have to start from scratch this week.

Melbourne have named the same side that lost to Manly last week, with Tim Glasby again 18th man.

The Titans are also going in with the same 17, Mark Ioane their 18th man.

Storm captain Cameron Smith requires just four points to become just the 10th man to score 1500 points for one club. The Storm average 28.4 points at home in 2013 and can make it 10 home wins for the fifth time in eight years should they prevail this week.

Watch Out Storm: Melbourne can go a long way towards shutting down the Titans’ attack by cutting out their offloads. The Gold Coast rank equal second in the NRL for total offloads in 2013 with an average 11.5 per game, while they have made more line-breaks directly from offloads than any other side with 18. Not surprisingly, Dave Taylor is the main man with 37 offloads for the year.

Notably, however, the Storm actually concede fewer offloads than any other side, with just eight per game.

Watch Out Titans: The Gold Coast will need to have their kicking game on song because Melbourne are the best side in the competition at defusing attacking kicks. They boast a success rate of 75 per cent in 2013 with 138 of 183 kicks successfully defused. That includes 32 of 40 grubbers (80 per cent), 47 of 55 bombs (85 per cent) and eight of 10 mid-field bombs (80 per cent).

Plays To Watch: Although soundly beaten by Manly last week, Melbourne did score a superb try off one of their long-term favourite plays, with Cameron Smith going right from dummy-half to Cooper Cronk who quickly found a flying Billy Slater looming up on the inside to race through. This play has been successful for many years for Melbourne but although rivals are all too aware of it, they continue to fail to stop it.

Key Match-Up: Cooper Cronk v Albert Kelly. The best halfback in the game lines up against one of the NRL’s most exciting talents. Cronk with his brilliant kicking game and beautifully structured passing game is a key part of Melbourne’s attack while Kelly plays more off the cuff and relies on his speed to take advantage of an opportunity that might present itself. They will present an interesting contrast on Saturday.

Where It Will Be Won: Defence is the key. Can the Gold Coast stop Melbourne’s big guns who will be on a mission to make amends for their heavy loss to Manly last week? And what will the Storm do about the Gold Coast’s offloading ability? When on song the Titans can throw plenty at you. Defensive application will be vital.

The History: Played 10; Storm 6, Titans 4. The Gold Coast have just one win from five games in Melbourne and have conceded 164 points in that time. They will be looking to beat the Storm twice in a season for the first time.

Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Justin Morgan.

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Storm v Titans clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 5.30pm.

The Way We See It: The Titans were exceptional against the Roosters last week but we think they face a much tougher test in Melbourne. The Storm ran into a red-hot Sea Eagles last week but back on home soil and no doubt with the sound of a Craig Bellamy blast still ringing in their ears, they should be back to their best. Storm by 12 points.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.





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