Round 24: Titans v Storm preview
There's no such thing as a sure thing... is there?
This game seems fairly straight-forward on paper. The Storm are sitting atop the competition, having watched the Roosters and Rabbitohs stumble just as they've seemingly returned to some kind of winning form. The race is tight however, and with two games left, the men from the southern state will need to be fully focused on the task at hand - and this week that's against an unpredictable Titans side.
A quick look back at the form line of the Gold Coast club reveals complete bedlam. Last week they spun the Sea Eagles big-time, downing them 42-34 with a second half onslaught, prior to that they capitulated late against an out-of-sorts Penrith and looked listless against likely wooden-spooners Parramatta in a 28-12 loss in Sydney. Go back further and they smashed top-four hopefuls the Warriors, but lost to Newcastle just before that.
The bottom line? Cameron Smith and his navy & purple charges probably aren't sure what to expect when they run out onto the Robina pitch this Saturday. All they know is to execute their systems to the best of their ability and hope it's enough to firstly beat the Titans, then overcome Penrith next week to claim yet another J.J. Giltinan shield for the club celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Gold Coast are relatively settled ahead of this penultimate round, with just Bryce Cartwright coming out of the 17, instead Will Matthews returns on the interchange. Melbourne aren't so lucky, with three injuries and a suspension forcing changes to their backs, pack and bench.
Winger Suliasi Vunivalu (injured) and centre Will Chambers (suspended) are both missing, which brings in Cheyse Blair and Justin Olam respectively in the backline. Up front Tim Glasby starts with Christian Welch dropping to the interchange, while on the bench the loss of both Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Brandon Smith to injury brings in Tui Kamikamica and Ryley Jacks. Sam Kasiano and Jahrome Hughes remain on the extended bench and could find themselves with late promotions.
Melbourne partook in the Round 10 double header at Suncorp once more, and were able to account for the Titans on that occasion, doubling their score in a 28-14 victory. Since the Gold Coast's admission in 2007, the Storm have the edge with 12 wins from 18 games.
Who to watch: If the Titans can take anything out of their 2018 campaign it's the discovery of fullback AJ Brimson. After plying his trade in the Under 20's and various QRL competitions on his way to first grade, a lack of form from regular five-eighth Kane Elgey saw Brimson earn a call-up this season and he hasn't failed to impress. With Michael Gordon's injury in recent weeks, he's capably filled in at fullback and his combination with Ash Taylor has helped with a couple of surprise wins for the Gold Coast.
For the Storm to be sitting on top without a solid regular halfback is a thing of wonder. The abilities of Cameron Munster at five-eighth for the bulk of 2018 have been the steadier in the halves, regardless if Hughes or Brodie Croft have pulled on the number seven. Munster will need to lift to another level once more to push the Storm to the brink of another minor premiership - particularly if the injury cloud over hooker and captain Cameron Smith rules him out prior to kickoff.
My tip: Whether Cameron Smith plays or not is immaterial here you'd have to think - Melbourne have too much class across the park and too much to play for to let this one drop. Although if they do, watch for a Bellamy spray like no other. Storm by 10.