Titans v Storm preview
Gold Coast Titans host Melbourne Storm at Skilled Park on Monday night in what looms as an intriguing contest.
Both teams will have their depth tested but the Storm will be more exposed as they lose their spine to Origin duty. Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Ryan Hoffman are all in Brisbane preparing for Origin II at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night.
The Titans lose key forwards Greg Bird and Nate Myles – to be replaced by Mark Minichiello and Luke Douglas respectively – but crucially retain their halves pairing of Albert Kelly and Aidan Sezer. And they also have their fullback William Zillman and hooker Matt Srama, so they should start favourites because forwards are typically easier to replace than spine positions.
The Titans are lucky they don’t lose a third forward to Origin commitments because veteran lock Ashley Harrison, who played in Origin I, has been dumped by the Maroons for Game 2.
Last week, the Titans were brave against the ladder-leading Rabbitohs in Cairns, falling short by 6 points in a very entertaining game. The Storm escaped with a narrow win over the Knights thanks to a late Slater try.
While the Storm missing key players can be seen as a bad thing, a positive aspect is that youngsters will be given the opportunity to make their mark. 21-year-old Ben Hampton will make his first-grade debut at five-eighth with regular no.6 Gareth Widdop shifted to fullback. Brett Finch keeps his halfback spot after coming in for Cronk in a late change last week. New Zealander Slade Griffin will be the starting hooker.
A revealing stat exposes how much the Storm relies on ‘The Big 3’. They’ve only won once in the last decade when all three have been absent.
Gold Coast is looking for their eighth win this season, a win which would see them go past Cronulla into fifth spot. Melbourne is looking to maintain their one point trail behind the Rabbitohs.
Staggeringly, the defending premiers have won 18 of their last 21 matches with only a draw, a 2-point loss and a 4-point loss blemishing that record.
You have to be a brave man to tip against the Storm but if ever they are vulnerable, tonight is the night. And if the Titans can bring a full 80-minute performance, like they did last week, they should win.
Tip: Titans by 6